The man who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch is retiring from ‘Sesame Street’ after nearly 50 years

While many of them may not realize it, generations of children have grown up watching Caroll Spinney on television. Don’t recognize the name? Since 1969, Spinney has been the man behind both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the beloved children’s program “Sesame Street.” Now, at the age of 84, the actor is retiring after nearly 50 years on the job.

Spinney says he’s enjoyed his career immensely but, as he’s aged, the physical demands have become more difficult. In 2015, he stopped puppeteering and has since only provided his voice.

“Sesame Street” confirmed the news of Spinney’s retirement via Twitter:

“Long-time puppeteer Caroll Spinney has announced that he is stepping down from the roles of Big Biard and Oscar the Grouch,” reads the tweet. “Spinney is pleased that his iconic roles will be carried on by puppeteers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson.”

Spinney was originally hired by Jim Henson, the creator of “Sesame Street,” to portray to the two now-classic characters. It was Spinney’s idea to play Big Bird like a child.

“I said, I think I should play him like he’s a child, a surrogate,” he told the New York Times. “He can be all the things that children are. He can learn with the kids.”

big bird sesame street photo
Getty Images | David Becker

Obviously, Spinney’s instinct was a good one, as the character has become a cultural touchstone for children everywhere. Although Oscar the Grouch seems like the antithesis of Big Bird in many ways, Spinney managed to give a lot of dimension and feeling to that character as well.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of ‘Sesame Street’ from the very beginning,” Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop, said in a statement. “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.”

Although he’s stepping down in an official capacity, Spinney promises that he plans to be “an ambassador for Sesame Workshop [the nonprofit educational organization behind the show] for many years to come.”

Congratulations to Spinney on his amazing career and best wishes for retirement!