Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street” since 1969 premiere, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down from the roles.
The news was made public via “Sesame Street’s” official Twitter account.
For Sesame fans it is the end of an era for a characters helped to define their childhoods.
Spinney’s five decades representing the beloved characters left him in the shadows, even as Big Bird and Oscar became famous.
Big Bird visited China with in 1979 and even showed off his massive dancing skills with Rockettes & prima ballerina Cynthia Gregory.
The beloved bird, who stands more than eight feet tall has been feted with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrated with his likeness on a U.S. postage stamp, and named a “Living Legend” in 2000 by the Library of Congress.
Spinney embraced his avian avatar, traveling the world, appearing in feature films and conducting symphonies in costume throughout the U.S, Australia and Canada.
Spinney, 84, will retire after Thursday’s taping of “Sesame Street” and the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch will be “passed on to new performers,” The New York Times reported.
Sesame Workshop, which produces the children’s educational program, was not sure how many episodes Spinney had appeared in but estimated the number was “thousands of the more than 4,400 episodes that have been created.”
Spinney told The New York Times that the physical requirements of the character became more difficult for him after he had balance issues.
“He stopped for Big Bird in 2015 and has since been providing only the voices for him and Oscar,” The New York Times reported.
“Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on ‘Sesame Street,’ and that’s Caroll’s gift to us,” Jeffrey Dunn, the president of Sesame Workshop, told the outlet. “I think it’s fair to say that Caroll’s view of the world and how we should treat each other has shaped and defined our organization.”
Following his departure, Spinney was one of the last surviving original “Sesame Street” staffers. He said he planned to be a “Sesame Street” ambassador after retiring.
“I’ll be 100 years old, doing Muppet stuff,” he said.