Taking off Big Bird
Posted: December 31, 2018
Do you recognize Caroll Spinney? You would if he was wearing his costume. He has spent the last 49 years playing around—as a puppeteer. He is the voice and body of Big Bird!
Or, he was. Mr. Spinney has decided it is time to retire from Sesame Street. He is 84 years old.
Mr. Spinney started playing with puppets as a boy. He used monkey puppets, snake puppets, and played puppet characters named Kookie Kangaroo, Mr. Lion, and two puppet cats named Picklepuss and Pop.
Sesame Street started in 1969. That’s when Mr. Spinney started operating and voicing the green Oscar the Grouch puppet. He became Big Bird too.
Operating an eight-foot two-inch tall bright yellow canary isn’t easy. Mr. Spinney stretched his right arm over his head to move Big Bird’s head and neck. His left hand moved the left wing. The right wing dangled from a fishing line running through a loop in Big Bird’s neck. Using a line attached to his left wrist, Mr. Spinney moved both wings. Most of the time, Mr. Spinney “saw” using a camera mounted on his chest.
Working the puppet became too difficult for Mr. Spinney as he got older. In 2015, he switched to just doing the Big Bird voice. Someone else worked the puppet. Now someone new is learning to be Big Bird. So the work Mr. Spinney started goes on.
Big Bird often offered this advice on Sesame Street: “If everyone in the whole wide world makes mistakes, then why can’t you?” Making mistakes is part of being human. It’s good counsel both to “work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) and “[cast] all your anxieties on Him.” (1 Peter 5:7)
What would it feel like to pretend to be the same character for almost 50 years? Mr. Spinney is glad he spent his life as the goofy yellow giant. “I would really be doing something right, perhaps even important,” he says, “if I was bringing even a little more compassion into the world through Big Bird.”