Named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, Big Bird has captivated children around the world for more than 30 years. A puppeteer since he was eight years old, Caroll Spinney has been the man inside the bird from the beginning. Also playing Oscar the Grouch, his characters have been seen on more than 3,900 shows in 148 countries.
Jim Henson, who was working with Joan Ganz Cooney and the Children’s Television Workshop to develop characters for a new educational children’s television show, saw Spinney perform a combined puppetry and animation show at the Puppeteers of America Festival in Salt Lake City in 1969. Henson persuaded Spinney to come to New York to join the cast of Sesame Street, which premiered later that year.
Spinney is the author of The Wisdom of Big Bird (And the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers, an inspirational memoir in which he shares the wisdom that he has gleaned over the years from his work creating and portraying one of the world’s most beloved characters. In an honest and endearing tone, Spinney vividly recalls a life enriched by pursuing and attaining his childhood dream.
Optimism, knowledge and diversity are the values around which Sesame Street is built. At the podium, Spinney discusses how he’s helped children reach their highest potential.
Starting with a show in his neighborhood barn, for which he charged two cents admission, Spinney set out to be “a puppeteer on the best kids’ show in the world.” After attending art school in Boston, he launched his television career in Las Vegas, where he created a show titled Rascal Rabbit in 1955. Returning to Boston, he first joined the Judy and Goggle Show as a puppeteer, and then moved over to The Bozo Show where he stayed for ten years.
Since achieving worldwide renown on Sesame Street, Spinney has made guest appearances on many other television shows, always as Big Bird and Oscar. He has performed in specials with Julie Andrews and Bob Hope, starred in his own 90-minute special, Big Bird in China, in 1982 and made appearances in the second and third Night of 100 Stars, Broadway’s televised tribute and fundraiser for fellow thespians. Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird marked Spinney’s motion picture debut in a starring role.
Spinney has earned four Emmy Awards, two Gold Records, and two Grammy Awards. Sesame Street has won numerous awards for its groundbreaking work.