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Legendary puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who brought to life Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, has died at the age of 85. Sesame Workshop confirmed the news on Sunday morning, saying Spinney had been living with the movement disorder Dystonia for some time.

“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, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending,” Sesame Workshop wrote in a statement.

“His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.”

In addition to Sesame Street, Spinney voiced Big Bird in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, Oscar the Grouch in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, and both beloved characters in 1985’s Follow That Bird.

Spinney received four Daytime Emmy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on Sesame Street, and two Grammy Awards for related recordings. He was also named a Library of Congress Living Legend in 2000.

As Spinney’s condition caused him greater discomfort, he handed over Big Bird duties to his apprentice Matt Vogel in 2015 before fully retiring from voice acting completely in 2018. That’s the same year Eric Jacobson was tasked with taking over the role of Oscar the Grouch.

"Sesame Street" 40th Anniversary Temporary Street Renaming
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“Through his legendary work as the world’s best-known, most lovable yellow bird, Caroll left an indelible mark on public television, and he touched the hearts and minds of countless children,” PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger wrote in a statement. “We are so very grateful for the inspiration, compassion and good humor that he brought to PBS audiences throughout his extraordinary career on SESAME STREET. He will be deeply missed.”

The official Muppets Twitter account also posted a message following the news of Spinney’s death, tweeting, “Whether as a Big Bird filled with wonder or a grouch named Oscar filled with complaints, Caroll Spinney filled all of our lives with joy, laughter and learning. Forever in our hearts.”

Spinney leaves behind his wife Debra, his children, grandchildren, and a legacy of laughs via the characters he portrayed with great humor and creativity for so much of his life.

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