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Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Tribute To Caroll Spinney (1933-2019) by Nicholas Napoli

He’s been Big ever since we were small, a legend who will me remembered by the whole world as the man who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life throughout our childhoods and furthur. I never had the privilege of meeting Caroll Spinney, therefor for me personally it is hard to describe him as a person. From the clips I’ve watched of him online, since the dawn of the internet, reading his book The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch), watching his documentary I Am Big Bird, and simply knowing that Big Bird came from within him, leads me to know what a great man he’s always been. As well as I know Caroll Spinney from following his work throughout my life, leads me to know about his wife, Debra Spinney, a lovely woman from everything I’ve ever seen and read about her, my condolences to his wife and family. My tribute will be from the perspective of a fan, a 33-year-old man who grew up with Sesame Street.

My first introduction to Big Bird was when I was around three years old, making his way to New York City, declining a ride from Kermit and Fozzie in The Muppet Movie. After seeing Big Bird in A Muppet Family Christmas and The Muppets A Celebration Of 30 Years I needed more Big Bird. Luckily my Mom rented me a copy of Follow That Bird, I watched it so many times, she ended up buying me my own copy. Sesame Street as a whole is fantastic, but when I was a child it was Big Bird that most grabbed my attention, as did Mr Snuffleupagus. They’re both so big compared to the other characters, yet Big Bird was much more prominent in my childhood. Once I was a teenager, I remember I began discovering who performed each Muppet. This is where I began to learn about Caroll Spinney and the first thing that I remember when learning about him, was how shocked I was to learn that he performed both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. 

Big Bird was so cute and lovable and Oscar on the other hand was mean and grouchy, I now appreciate Oscar so much but as a child I never understood him. He lived on Sesame Street, how could he be so grouchy and mean to everybody all the time? When I was young, I was so worried that Big Bird wouldn’t find his way back to Sesame Street after running away from the Dodos, I remember being so frustrated with Oscar when everyone was getting ready to set out to find Big Bird and Oscar asked a question unrelated to the search. Another shocking discovery for me as a child was when I learned Big Bird was only six years old, I think Mrs. Finch was the first person to inform me. I was completely shocked, because of his height I always considered him an adult, yet never questioned why he acted so innocent and child-like. 


Since learning of Caroll Spinney’s passing, I’ve been recollecting my Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch memories from my childhood. This is a great legacy to leave behind, although I never met Caroll Spinney I have still been touched by him through his performance, as has the whole world, getting through to so many people, without having ever having met them, that is a true accomplishment, what a great man. Another great achievement by Caroll Spinney is by the fact that his work lives on, he created these two characters, and even after he is gone, his characters continue to live on, still making the same impact he had since the very beginning. Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson now performs these characters and I must agree with Caroll Spinney’s decision, he made an excellent choice in who he chose for each one. 

Caroll Spinney will be greatly missed but never forgotten, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, anyone who’s even seen them, will always have a memory of Caroll Spinney, even if some might not even be aware of it.  

- Nicholas Napoli

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