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Name: Carroll Spinney
Age: 85
Occupation: puppeteer, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch
Last Seen: The Great Beyond
Awarded For:
entertaining the world in a giant, stinky bird costume

December 8 is a day that will go down in entertainment infamy.

This Sunday, we observed the anniversaries of the deaths of two rock legends due to crazy people with guns: John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell Abbott. But on this past Sunday, three more folks crossed over who brought us all joy.

The world was stunned when rapper Juice WRLD died after collapsing at Midway Airport in Chicago. He had just turned 21. Best-known for the tune "Lucid Dreams" and best-selling albums "Death Race For Love" and "Goodbye and Good Riddance", Juice WRLD had just gotten off of a private jet when he suffered a seizure. Police confiscated several bottles of codeine cough syrup and 70 lbs. of marijuana from the plane, along with several guns and ammo. 

Also on Sunday, RenĂ© Auberjonois, best-known for playing Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Clayton Endicott III on Benson died at 79 from lung cancer. He started as a stage actor in the 1960s and made his film debut as Father Mulcahy in the 1970 film "MASH".

But if there was one person who touched more people who died yesterday, it was a man who made his living portraying a giant canary who was a perpetual five-year-old.

For 49 of the last 50 years, Carroll Spinney was the voice and body of Big Bird, the star of Sesame Street. He began his life as an artist and puppeteer. Jim Henson loved him so much that in 1969, he gave him the ever-so-daunting task of putting on that giant bird outfit. Sesame Street was a runaway success. It was so popular that PBS allowed secondary affiliations with TV stations in towns without a PBS affiliate so they could air the show. 

Sesame Street was originally designed for inner city children with a racially and culturally diverse cast. But as we all know, the Muppets turned out to be the big stars of the show and Big Bird was its leader. Yes, he taught us to count and spell, but he also taught us feelings. When Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper died in 1982, he was taught that if somebody dies, they're not coming back. The show used the opportunity to teach children how they can pay tribute to fallen friends and loved ones. Big Bird also taught us about imagination and lots of other things birds simply can't do.

Spinney was also portrayed Oscar the Grouch. The angry, cantankerous - yet lovable - green monster who calls a trash can his home. 


Aside from being Big Bird and Oscar's provider, Spinney was an accomplished artist. The subjects of many of his works were - who else - Big Bird and Oscar.

In recent years, however, lots of changes have occurred with both Sesame Street and Spinney. The show went from being an hour long to only 30 minutes and in 2016, the show shocked its longtime fans when its producers, Sesame Workshop announced that first-run episodes of the program would be moving to HBO with PBS continuing to air after a nine-month embargo. Also, Carroll reduced his role as Big Bird due to him being diagnosed with dystonia, a disease that causes muscle contractions. He remained his voice until 2018 when he retired from the show for good. 

When his announcement was made, It simply told me that he probably didn't have that much longer on this earth. Well, I was right, since he died on Sunday. For the past several years, Both Big Bird's voice and puppetry has been performed by Matt Vogel, who also does the voices for The Count and since 2017, Kermit the Frog. Oscar, OTOH is now done by Eric Jacobson, who also performs Bert, Guy Smiley and Grover, all roles once performed by Frank Oz. 

As a young boy who grew up without cable, Sesame Street was a part of my daily TV diet, along with other PBS shows like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow, 3-2-1 Contact and Square One Television. Yes, there were kids with cable in my highly-rural northern Michigan school district and they got to watch other kids get slimed on Nickelodeon. But at least for me, I've learned to be somewhat smarter than a lot of the kids I went to school with. 

Yes, Big Bird will live on forever and forever, but nobody can ever fill those big orange talons like Carroll Spinney could.


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