Caroll Spinney, legendary 'Sesame Street' puppeteer of Big Bird, dies at 85

Spinney died at his home in Connecticut on Sunday after living with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, for several years.

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/ Source: NBC News
By Sarah Jackson

Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer and actor behind "Sesame Street's" Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died Sunday. He was 85.

He passed away at his home in Connecticut, according to a press release from Sesame Workshop. Spinney had worked on the beloved cartoon show for 50 years, serving as the puppeteer for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show's premiere in 1969.

Author and puppeteer Caroll Spinney poses for a photo at the 15th Annual Sesame Workshop Benefit Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 31, 2017 in New York City.Mike Coppola / WireImage

Spinney had been diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that produces involuntary muscle contractions, cramps and other symptoms, causing him to retire from puppeteering the two characters in 2018.

"His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while," the press release said. "Caroll Spinney gave something truly special to the world. With deepest admiration, Sesame Workshop is proud to carry his memory – and his beloved characters – into the future."

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"Sesame Street" co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney remembered Spinney for his generosity.

"Caroll Spinney’s contributions to 'Sesame Street' are countless," she said in the press release. "He not only gave us Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, he gave so much of himself as well. We at Sesame Workshop mourn his passing and feel an immense gratitude for all he has given to Sesame Street and to children around the world.”