Caroll Spinney, the television puppeteer known for his work as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the long-running show "Sesame Street," died Sunday, the show announced. He was 85.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Sesame Workshop said Spinney had been living with dystonia, a neurological condition that can cause uncontrollable muscle contractions, "for some time."
Spinney voiced and operated the two characters from their inception in 1969 when he was 36, and performed them almost exclusively into his 80s on the PBS kids' television show that later moved to HBO.
As Big Bird, Spinney traveled to China with legendary entertainer Bob Hope, danced with the Rocketts, earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was recognized as a Library of Congress Living Legend, according to Sesame Workshop.
"Before I came to 'Sesame Street,' I didn't feel like what I was doing was very important," Spinney said when he announced his retirement in 2018. "Big Bird helped me find my purpose."
Sesame Workshop said of Spinney's legacy: "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. 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."
Spinney is survived by his wife Debra as well as his children and grandchildren.
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