Birthday: December 26, 1933
Died At Age: 85
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Caroll Edwin Spinney
Born Country: United States
Born in: Waltham, Massachusetts, United States
Famous as: Puppeteer
Height: 1.77 m
Spouse/Ex-: Debra Spinney (m. 1979–2019), Debra Spinney (m. 1979–2019), Janice Spinney (m. 1960–1971)
father: Chester Spinney
mother: Margaret Spinney
siblings: David Spinney, Donald Spinney
children: Ben Spinney, Jessica Spinney, Melissa Spinney
Died on: December 8, 2019
place of death: Woodstock, Connecticut, United States
U.S. State: Massachusetts
education: Acton-Boxborough Regional High School
Who was Caroll Spinney?
A puppeteer who breathed life into the epic yet contrasting duo of ‘Oscar the Grouch’ and ‘Big Bird’ on the television series Sesame Street, Caroll Spinney entertained children as well as adults for over four decades. A shy boy who lived a life of his dreams, Caroll found his happiness in puppets at a very early age. Encouraged by his parents, he honed his skills and performed for his community all the time while growing up. There was an inherent charisma in Caroll that made his larger-than-life, half-a-century long stint as a giant yellow bird one of the greatest performances in the world of television. It is no surprise that he won multiple awards including a lifetime achievement Emmy for his amazing body of work. He had once described his journey as amazing as playing the original Disney character Mickey Mouse. Although his work was full of celebrating and making people happy, Caroll struggled with his physical and mental health. However, he was fortunate to have been surrounded by his loved ones as he breathed his last. His work was celebrated by his entire team as they wore a yellow feather to pay their tribute to the big-hearted Caroll Spinney who not only immortalized Big Bird, but also continues to spread wisdom and cheer through his characters.
Childhood & Early Life
Caroll Edwin Spinney was born on 26 December 1933, in in Waltham, Massachusetts. He was named after the Christmas carols by his mother Margaret Spinney. His father, Chester Spinney, worked in a watch making factory, and Caroll had two elder brothers.
Shy as a kid, he loved to draw and paint. He took a fascination towards puppetry at the young age of five. His first show was conducted using a puppet monkey and a stuffed-toy snake for his family in the barn. There was no looking back as Caroll kept working with puppets and putting up performances throughout his childhood, which also helped him put together his tuition money.
Caroll completed his studies from Massachusetts’ Acton High School and joined the US Air Force following his graduation.
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While in the Air Force, Caroll Edwin started creating Harvey, which was a comic strip based on his experiences in the military. He also worked on a black and white animated cartoon series known as Crazy Crayon.
After returning to civilian life, he worked in Las Vegas and Boston creating cartoons, making animations and as a puppeteer for multiple shows such as Rascal Rabbit, Bozo’s Big Top and The Judy & Goggle Show.
In 1969, Jim Henson roped him in to join the team of Muppets and he started his life-long journey on television, in the show Sesame Street.
Apart from that he was also seen in TV shows like The Muppet Show, 1979, Shalom Sesame, 1987 to 1991, Learn Along with Sesame, from 1996 to 2001, Elmo’s World, 1998 to 2009, and The Street, 2015 to 2018.
Caroll worked in movies like The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Follow that Bird (1985)—in which is essayed 3 characters: Oscar, Big Bird and Bruno (the Trashman) — The Adventured of Elmo in Grouchland (1999) and Night at the Museum (2009).
He was also part of more than fifteen video games starting from the year 1988 to 2011, wherein he played either Big Bird or Oscar or sometimes both.
His medical condition didn’t allow him to continue working as a puppeteer and Caroll Spinney limited himself to lending only his voice for Sesame Street since 2015. But, he retired from the show completely on 17th of October 2018, and handed over the roles of Oscar to Eric Jacobson and Big Bird to Matt Vogel.
Sesame Street and playing the characters of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird have been the most important work in Caroll Spinney’s career. It was these characters that brought Caroll fame, recognition and a deep feeling of satisfaction of being able to make a difference in the life of children – bringing them wisdom and happiness. Apart from the actual show Caroll played these characters on television, in movies, he travelled around the world on tours, taking part in stage shows, and participating in events, where he lived and breathed as Big Bird and Oscar. He won numerous awards for the show and his legacy still lives on in his multitude of fans of age groups.
Awards & Achievements
Caroll Spinney has won five Daytime Emmy Awards for Sesame Street. In the year 1974 and 1979 – the award for ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement’ in a Children’s Program, in 1976 for ‘Outstanding Children’s Program’, in 1984 a special performer award for his ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement’ and in 2007 for being an outstanding performer in a children’s series.
He was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award in the year 2006.
He was nominated five times (2014 and 2015) and won three trophies in 2015 at the BTVA (Behind the Voice Actors) Award for ‘Best Male Vocal’ for Sesame Street.
He was nominated for the Grammy in 1976 and received a Walk of Fame Hollywood Star on 21st of April 1994.
8th of November 2019 was declared as Caroll Spinney Day by the Mayor in New York City.
Family & Personal Life
Caroll Spinney married Janice Spinney in 1960, and the couple had three children together. Two daughters called Jessica and Melissa and a son named Benjamin. However, after a 11-year marriage, they got divorced in 1971.
After the divorce, he went through a phase of depression and even had suicidal feelings. But he met Debra Gilroy in 1972 and they got married in 1979. This was the beginning of a life-long love story which lasted till Caroll’s death.
Caroll Spinney was diagnosed with Dystonia, which is a neurological disorder, in the year 2015. He passed away at the age of 85, on the 8th of December 2019, surrounded by his family, at his house in Connecticut.