Caroll Spinney won’t be calling Sesame Street his address anymore. The legendary 84-year-old puppeteer is retiring from his role on the long-running children’s program after 50 years, according to the New York Times. Spinney debuted the roles of polar opposite characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in 1969.
Sesame Workshop estimated that Spinney’s characters appeared in thousands of the 4,400 Sesame Street episodes that have aired over the past 50 years. The actor, whose iconic career was documented in the 2014 film I Am Big Bird, noted that he was lucky enough to land two of the most wonderful roles on Sesame Street.
“I always thought, How fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets? Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.”
Spinney also revealed that he only recently decided to retire after the physical requirements of performing began to wear on him. Three years ago, the actor stopped doing the puppeteering for the towering Big Bird character after experiencing problems with his balance, but he continued to provide the voices of the iconic bird and the trashcan-dwelling grouch. The star will record his final voice work for the series later this week.
In a press release posted by Buzzfeed, Spinney credited the kind-hearted Big Bird character for opening his mind and nurturing his soul.
In an interview with ABC News, Spinney revealed that in addition to his famous roles as Big Bird and Oscar, he was actually the original voice behind the Elmo character.
“About the second or third year of the show, we had a series of little things we were doing called the Monster Family and I played Baby Monster. That was Elmo. Baby Monster was put away for years and when the fuzzy red character was resurrected, he was renamed Elmo.”
Spinney also detailed an on-set occupational hazard that almost marked the end of Big Bird. The actor revealed that a 200-pound light once fell 30 feet and missed him by less than 18 inches.
“If I had moved one step, it would have hit me,” he said. “It would have been somebody else playing the bird!”
While it still seems impossible for anyone to fill Caroll Spinney’s shoes, puppeteer Matt Vogel will take over the role of Big Bird and Eric Jacobson will voice Oscar the Grouch.
For more on Caroll Spinney’s career on Sesame Street, take a look at the video below.