Caroll Spinney Wiki
(December 26, 1933 – December 8, 2019) was an American puppeteer, cartoonist, author and speaker most famous for playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street from its inception in 1969 until 2018.
Caroll Spinney Early life
Caroll Edwin Spinney was born in Waltham, Massachusetts, on December 26, 1933. His mother, a native of Bolton, England, named him Caroll because he was born the day after Christmas. He has been drawing and painting since he was a child. He developed a love of puppeteering when he saw a performance of Three Little Kittens at the age of five. This motivated him to purchase a monkey puppet from a rummage sale three years later and put on a puppet show utilizing the monkey and a plush snake. The following Christmas, his mother gifted him with a Punch and Judy puppet theater. He continued puppeteering throughout his childhood and adolescence and used his performances to raise money for college tuition.
After he graduated from Acton High School (subsequently Acton-Boxborough Regional High School) in Acton, Massachusetts, Spinney served in the US Air Force.
Caroll Spinney Wife
Spinney is survived by his second wife, Debra, along with children and grandchildren from his first marriage.
Caroll Spinney Career
While in the Air Force, Spinney wrote and illustrated Harvey, a comic strip about military life. He also animated a series of black-and-white cartoons called Crazy Crayon.
in 1955, Spinney relocated to Las Vegas, where he performed in the show Rascal Rabbit. He returned to Boston, joining The Judy and Goggle Show in 1958 as a puppeteer “Goggle” to Judy Valentine’s Judy. Throughout the 1960s, he performed on the Boston broadcast of Bozo’s Big Top, where he played various costumed characters which included Kookie the Boxing Kangaroo as well as Mr. Lion, who created cartoon drawings from the names of children participating in the show. Through that decade, he was also a commercial artist and animator.
Spinney created a puppet duo consisting of two cats named Picklepuss and Pop, which he utilized throughout the 1960s. Many years later, Spinney’s Picklepuss and Pop puppets were characters in Wow, You’re a Cartoonist!
Spinney first met Jim Henson in 1962 at a puppeteering festival, where Henson asked if he would like to “talk about the Muppets”. As Spinney failed to realize the question was an employment offer, the conversation never came to pass.
In 1969, Spinney performed at a Puppeteers of America festival in Utah. His show was a mixture of live actors and puppets but was ruined by an errant spotlight that washed out the animated backgrounds. Henson was once again in attendance and noticed Spinney’s performance. “I liked what you were trying to do,” Henson said, and he asked once more if they could “talk about the Muppets”. This time, they did have the conversation, and Spinney joined the Muppeteers full-time by late 1969.
Spinney joined Sesame Street for the inaugural season in 1969. However, he nearly left after the first season because he was not getting acceptable pay, but Kermit Love persuaded him to stay. He has performed the Big Bird and Oscar characters in Australia, China, Japan, and across Europe. As Big Bird and Oscar, he has conducted orchestras across the US and Canada, including the Boston Pops, and has visited the White House multiple times. He has provided the characters’ voices on dozens of albums.
As Oscar, Spinney has written How to Be a Grouch, a Whitman Tell-A-Tale picture book. With J. Milligan, he wrote the 2003 book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers (ISBN 0-375-50781-7). Spinney narrated the audiobook Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis. His work has been studied by other international puppeteers who structure their performance styles after his, most evidently with full-body puppet costumes. The Chinese performer of Da Niao on Zhima Jie is most evident of this, as the character is an exact physical replica of Big Bird.
Though Big Bird and Oscar are his main characters, Spinney has also performed as other characters. At one point, he created and performed Bruno the Trash Man, a full-bodied puppet representing a garbage carrier, who also carried Oscar’s trash can. Bruno was used until the foam plastic of the character broke down.
Spinney has performed as Granny Bird, Big Bird’s grandmother. The puppet used for Granny Bird is actually a spare Big Bird puppet, and Spinney provides her voice. As Granny Bird’s appearances are often alongside Big Bird (who is, as she stated, her “favorite grandson”), her voice is usually pre-recorded so that Spinney can perform Big Bird. Spinney reprised his role as Oscar the Grouch in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian in a cameo appearance next to Darth Vader.
On October 17, 2018, Spinney officially announced his retirement from Sesame Street. His last performances as Big Bird and Oscar were recorded as part of the series’ landmark 50th season, which will air the following year. The roles of Big Bird and Oscar were handed over to Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson, respectively. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Spinney was earning over $300,000 at the time of his retirement.
Caroll Spinney Death
He passed away at his home in Connecticut after living with dystonia for some time, a Sesame Workshop statement said.