Big Bird leaves Sesame Street

In almost 45 years in the radio business, the answer to the most famous person I ever met has always been the first famous person I ever met.

He lived nearby in Woodstock, Conn., and agreed to come into my little radio station for an interview in 1977.

He was Big Bird.

Carroll Spinney was the real deal. After sitting for an interview, he walked around the tiny station, and talked to a few little kids whose parents brought them to the station knowing who was coming that day. He’d stick his head in a wastebasket and be his other character, Oscar the Grouch.

“Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life,” Caroll Spinney tells the New York Times today. Pretty much the same thing he said 41 years ago.

And he’s done. He’s retiring this week.

The physical demands of playing the characters has gotten to be too much. Spinney is now — you’ll want to sit down for this — 84.

He said it was lonely “in there” playing Big Bird.

“I was separated from everybody,” he said.

“I’ve been playing a 6-year-old for 50 years,” Spinney said. “And the children bought it.”

Because Spinney was the real deal.

  • I always loved the sweet innocence of the Big Bird character.

    Thanks for this story, Bob.

  • X.A. Smith

    For several years straight as a child, Spinney’s voice woke me up every morning, via a Big Bird alarm clock. “Don’t roll over and go back to sleep,” he’d implore.

    • Jack

      I would love to have that alarm.

      • Veronica

        We have one that was my husband’s and after all these years it does work, but time has taken its toll and it’s kind of terrifying now.

      • X.A. Smith
        • Jack

          Thanks. That was a great way to end my work day. No, I was not sleeping on the job.

  • Mike Worcester

    He has certainly contributed to the betterment of our kids’ lives (and mine also). Enjoy your retirement Carroll!

  • Tyler

    I just watched the Mr. Rogers documentary this week. I don’t think I can handle this much childhood nostalgia.

  • Lois Gaetz

    Big Bird lived at our house! From 4:30 to 5:30 he and his cohort ruled. Preceded by Mr Rogers. My children grew up with him.

  • Jay Sieling

    Seeing the headline I was worried I was going to read another obituary. I’m glad that Big Bird will continue on through an apprentice (as will Oscar – and has Kermit) I think we all realize and are grateful that Muppets are ‘forever’ creatures. I’m thankful for what Big Bird has taught me – both growing up and as a parent. I wouldn’t be able to bear it if the character were to truly leave. Although, Big Bird did help us understand that important lesson of loss:

  • Guest

    “I thought growing old would take longer”
    I knew big bird when he was just the size of Tweety-bird 🙂

  • Jerry

    I’m glad relations between children and giant birds have improved

  • merry_rose

    Truly an icon! I hope Mr. Spinney enjoys a well deserved retirement.

  • Al

    My younger twin loves Big Bird. Big Bird is her everything. From my Birdketeer to the real deal: Thank you, Carroll.