Bob McGrath was many things. He was a TV star, having appeared on Sesame Street since its very first episode. If my math is right, he was one of the longest-running human characters in TV history (right behind some soap opera actors). He was an insanely talented singer, famous both stateside and in Japan. He was our neighbor, our teacher, and our father (and later, grandfather) figure. But also, Bob was my friend.
I first met Bob in 2010… no, wait. That’s not right. I met Bob before I could even remember. Much like anyone reading this article, I grew up with Bob as one of my many pals on Sesame Street, regularly greeting me to the show, introducing me to people in our neighborhood, making sure I knew which of these things were not like the others, and being generally exasperated at Oscar the Grouch’s antics. Over the course of my childhood and, subsequently, through adulthood, Bob was a welcome and constant presence. It was hard not to assume that the Bob on my TV was the same Bob that you might encounter in real life.
The first time I really met Bob was in 2010. The Jim Henson Legacy held an event for Henson Company alumni, and somehow we found ourselves on the guest list. After confirming that it wasn’t a mistake, my ToughPigs colleague Ryan and I got the chance to act as wallflowers in a room full of people we’d only read about on the Muppet Wiki. At one point in the evening, someone entered the room and immediately shouted, “BABUUUUU!” We saw that it was Emilio Delgado – Sesame Street‘s Luis – who spotted his old pal Bob, and made a beeline through the crowd to embrace his friend. As witnesses to this, we were swept away by seeing almost 40 years of behind-the-scenes friendship in front of us, and two icons sharing an emotional moment. It’s staggering to think that both of those incredible men are gone within just this past year.
Later in the evening, I gathered enough muster to introduce myself to Bob, and unsurprisingly, he was so incredibly kind and generous with his time. Not only did he show a genuine appreciation for my love of his work, but he agreed to shoot a short video for my friend (and ToughPigs writer) Anthony Strand, who was getting married soon after. Bob sang a slightly rewritten version of “People in Your Neighborhood” about Anthony and Roz, and he seemed overjoyed to get that opportunity.
Over the years, I’d seem to find myself in the vicinity of Bob every so often. A sing-along and CD signing at a Barnes & Noble. A Sesame anniversary event at the Brooklyn Public Library. I even ran into him at Toy Fair – I was covering the event for ToughPigs while Bob was there to promote a new album. That meeting was especially memorable because I got to introduce him to my wife Sarah, who had a rather emotional reaction to seeing her Sesame Street friend in the flesh.
During my tenure at Sesame Workshop, I’d see Bob more often. Occasionally he’d be there to work, but more often we’d see each other at staff gatherings and holiday parties. I always made a point to spend a little time with Bob, ask about his family, and to reminisce about his early days on (and before) Sesame Street. My fondest memories of Bob will always be from those parties. Much like Emilio’s reaction to seeing Bob, he’d spot me from across the room, stick his hand out (despite being 20 feet away), and cut through the crowd to shake my hand. It felt like he really was my old friend from childhood, always excited to reconnect after years apart.
In 2018, I got a rare opportunity to write a script for some Sesame characters – a direct-to-YouTube short. I recall being told that the script would feature one Muppet and one human cast member, and I’d be assigned both with no chance to swap. As great as it might’ve been to write for Emilio Delgado or Roscoe Orman, I was elated to get to write the Bob script. Despite it not being my best work ever, I can’t begin to tell you how special it felt to sit in a room with Bob and hear him speak the words I’d written. After the shoot, he shared in that excitement with me, genuinely proud that we’d gotten the chance to collaborate on a real project. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Bob a few times over the past few years, including the Comic Con panel I hosted in 2019 with Bob and Emilio, Roscoe Orman, and Alan Muraoka. We also sat down for a few long-form interviews, which outside forces are keeping me from publishing, but I hope to share with you someday. Most recently, just this past September, I got to see Bob one last time at an event at The Museum of the Moving Image. Despite having greeted dozens of fans that day, Bob lit up when he saw me, his hand outstretched to say one more hello to his pal.
I’m honored to have gotten to spend time with a lot of Muppet and Sesame icons over the years. As we’ve said goodbye to folks like Jerry Nelson, Caroll Spinney, and Emilio Delgado, I’ve mourned and celebrated them as a fan – sad for the loss, but happy for the breadth of work they left us. It’s not dissimilar for Bob, but Bob is the first of these passings that felt so personal. Bob was my childhood friend from TV, but he was also someone with whom I had long chats with at holiday parties, interviewed on multiple occasions, collaborated on a Sesame Street production, and got to share that joy every time I got the gift of standing in the same room as a legend like him.
Bob McGrath – one of the kindest men I ever got the opportunity to work with – you will be missed. Thanks for being my friend.
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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com