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Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85

Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch Puppeteer Caroll Spinney Dead at 85
Matthew Rettenmund

"Sesame Street" puppeteer and performer Caroll Spinney — the man behind Oscar the Grouch and inside Big Bird for decades — has died. He was 85.

The New York Times reports that Spinney, who had suffered from the muscular disease dystonia, died on Sunday at his home in Woodstock, Connecticut.

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Born on December 26, 1933, Spinney was artistic as a child and fascinated with puppetry, performing professionally for the first time in 1955. Hired by the Children's Television Workshop in 1969, he stayed with his iconic characters until retiring last year.

As Big Bird, the 5'10" Spinney had to maneuver an over-8' costume, engaging in physically strenuous, whole-body puppeteering, all the while speaking in the character's distinctively childlike voice.

It was in this voice that Spinney as Big Bird sang "It's Not Easy Being Green" at a 1990 memorial service for Jim Henson. He occasionally performed as both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch simultaneously at the many live shows he engaged in over the years, relying on a voice recording and an assistant.

Spinney and his alter egos were silver-screen successes as well, appearing in "The Muppet Movie" (1979), "The Great Muppet Caper" (1981), "Big Bird in China" (1983), "Follow That Bird" (1985), and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (2009).

Spinney is survived by his second wife, Debra Jean, by three children, and by four grandchildren.