Big Bird is Retiring

after 50 years living on Sesame Street

WOODSTOCK, Conn. — The friendly, bearded face of Caroll Spinney may not be one you recognize immediately. But if you have watched TV at any point in the past 50 years or so, you are almost certainly familiar with his work. Since 1969, he has played the parts of the gentle, inquisitive Big Bird and the lovably disgruntled Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street,” the long-running children’s program.

This Thursday, as he so often has, Spinney, 84, plans to travel to the studios in Astoria, Queens, where “Sesame Street” is produced, and record some voices for his colorful alter egos.

Then he will retire from the program: His roles will be passed on to new performers and his remarkable half-century run, in which he has embodied two of the most beloved characters on television, will come to an end.

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit education organization that produces “Sesame Street,” did not have a precise figure for the number of episodes Spinney has appeared in, but a spokeswoman said the number was likely thousands of the more than 4,400 episodes that have been created.

Spinney, who spoke last week from his living room here, seated next to his wife, Debra, said that he had few if any regrets about his time on “Sesame Street.”

“I always thought, How fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?” he said. “Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.”

Asked if he had long been contemplating his departure from “Sesame Street,” where he has worked since its debut, Spinney answered, “No, not at all.”

But in recent years, Spinney said, the physical requirements of performing the characters had been become difficult for him, and he had developed problems with his balance. He stopped doing the puppeteering for Big Bird in 2015 and has since been providing only the voices for him and Oscar.

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