Spinney has been the man inside the Big Bird suit and Oscar's trash can for years. He was in the cast when the show first premiered back in 1969, making his tenure on TV just shy of 50 years. He announced his retirement on Wednesday, in a statement first published on the Sesame Workshop website.
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney. “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.”
Spinney had years of experience as an entertainer — particularly a puppeteer — before Sesame Street. He also served in the United States Air Force, but he said that Sesame Street's positive message to its young audience made him feel like he was really fulfilling a purpose in life.
"Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn't feel like what I was doing was very important," he admitted. "Big Bird helped me find my purpose. 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 created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever."
Today, Spinney is 84 years old. He is a big contributor to the show to this very day, and his co-workers are sure that the whole production will feel his absence.
“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” said Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop Joan Ganz. “His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world.”
“Since 1969, Caroll’s kind and loving view of the world has helped shape and define this institution,” added Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop’s President and CEO. “Throughout his unparalleled career, Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his legacy – and his beloved characters – into the future.”
Spinney has documented his work on Sesame Street in his illustrated autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird. He also appeared in a 2014 documentary, I Am Big Bird.