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Dec. 8, 2019 — Carroll Spinney, 1933-2019

You may not know Carroll Spinney by name, but you certainly know his work if you have been paying attention the last 50 years.

Spinney, who died this morning, was the voice of two of the most diametrically opposed characters on Sesame Street: the happy-go-lucky Big Bird, and the cantankerous Oscar The Grouch.

In that first year, 1969, both Muppets looked somewhat different from what they look like now. Big Bird looked a little threadbare in his head and neck areas, but since then the Children’s Television Workshop has worked to fill out his facial area with bright, wide yellow feathers. Oscar, in Sesame Street’s first season, had orange fur instead of green.

Spinney, for 49 years, voiced both Oscar and Big Bird. This also included him having to climb inside an eight-foot suit, extend one arm over his head to work Big Bird’s mouth, and having to share space inside of the suit with a TV monitor to help him navigate his surroundings.

It was the bulk and complexity of the Big Bird costume which may have saved Spinney’s life back in 1986. Spinney was invited by NASA to fly on a Space Shuttle mission to spark interest in science amongst children. But there wasn’t enough room in the cargo hold for the Big Bird costume.

That mission turned out to be the ill-fated flight of the Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew including the first “teacher in space,” Christa McAuliffe.

Instead, Spinney would die of natural causes today — the same day Sesame Street is inducted into The Kennedy Center Honors.

Highly appropriate, and very poignant.

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