Sesame Street puppeteer behind Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch dead at 85

Caroll Spinney, the master puppeteer behind the popular Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has died at age 85.

According to the non-profit group Sesame Workshop, Spinney died at his Connecticut home Sunday after living with the muscular disorder dystonia. Dystonia causes muscles to contract involuntarily.

“Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades,” read a statement on the organization’s website. “His legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending.”

In an interview with CBC News in 2014, Spinney said puppetry was a form of escape since childhood.

“In school I was the smallest boy with big ears,” said Spinney. “And the name Caroll didn’t help.”

Spinney voiced the friendly yellow giant for nearly 50 years, starting when Sesame Street began in 1969. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

Spinney voiced and operated the two popular Muppets for nearly 50 years and performed them almost exclusively into his 80s on the PBS kids’ television show that later moved to HBO. 

He retired from voicing Big Bird last year and his apprentice, Matt Vogel, who also plays Kermit the Frog, took over.

“I’ll always be part of him,” Spinney said in 2014.

The longtime puppeteer received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. In 2000, he received the U.S. Library of Congress’s Living Legend Award, in recognition of his creative contributions.

More from Carol Spinney’s 2014 interview with CBC News below:

The man behind two of Sesame Street’s icons reveals how Big Bird came to be 2:07