Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, arguably the two most recognizable characters on the most iconic children’s television program ever, Sesame Street, are performed by the same person: Caroll Spinney. He’s been with the PBS-turned-HBO series since its first episode, on November 10, 1969, but after nearly 50 years on the job, Spinney is retiring, with his roles being “passed on to new performers” (understudy Matt Vogel has been in the eight-foot two-inch tall bird suit since 2016, but Spinney still provided the voice).
“I always thought, How fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?” Spinney met Jim Henson in 1962, and their relationship blossomed. He said: “Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.” however the physical toll was too much for the 84-year-old, and he “developed problems with his balance.” Vogel, who’s also taken over performing Kermit the Frog and Count von Count in recent years, called replacing Spinney “daunting and important.”
“The more I do the character, the more that I try to preserve what I think Caroll’s intentions were,” he said. “Inevitably, part of our own personality starts to creep into those characters. But that’s the way they live on.”