Caroll Spinney has been with Sesame Street since the beginning. For nearly 50 years, since the show first debuted in 1969, he breathed life into two of the most popular puppets, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, for viewers. Now, at the age of 84, Spinney is stepping down from his post and passing the reins to two new actors.
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” he said in a statement announcing his retirement. “And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we’re a family! But now it’s time for two performers that I have worked with and respected – and actually hand-picked for the guardianship of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch – to take my alter-egos into their hands and continue to give them life.”
Matt Vogel, Sesame Street‘s Puppet Captain who took over Kermit the Frog from puppeteer Steve Whitmire, will now take over as Big Bird. Eric Jacobson — the voice of Grover, Bert, and Guy Smiley on Sesame Street and Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear from the Muppets — will add Oscar the Grouch to his puppetry rolodex.
The Sesame Workshop released a video tribute to Spinney’s time on the show (shown above), including archival footage of the pilot episode. Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the non-profit media and educational organization, called Spinney “one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning” and praised his “genius” and “talent.”
“Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important. Big Bird helped me find my purpose,” Spinney said. “Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while! They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling — and my wonderful wife! — and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”