Caroll Spinney was remembered by his Sesame Street co-stars at the 42nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. The late children’s television legend, best known as the voice of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died at age 85 on the same day Sesame Street became the first television series to receive the award for lifetime achievement in the arts.
Sesame Workshop co-founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett were on hand to accept the prestigious award during the bittersweet ceremony. The duo accepted the honor on behalf of Muppets creator Jim Henson, puppeteers Caroll Spinney and Frank Oz, and all the other artists who have worked on the show, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Cast members from the series also honored Spinney, who was a fixture on the long-running PBS children’s show from 1969 until his retirement last year. Iconic Sesame Street Muppets Ernie and Bert, as well as Big Bird (portrayed by Matt Vogel since 2018), appeared at the event, according to Page Six.
Vogel paid tribute to his mentor Spinney in a touching Instagram post hours before he headed to the ceremony.
In a poignant tribute, Sesame Street cast members David Rudman (Cookie Monster), Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby Cadabby), Ryan Dillon (Elmo), Peter Linz (Ernie) and Eric Jacobson (Bert) wore yellow feathers pinned to their chests as they attended the prestigious ceremony with their puppets in hand.
On red carpet at Kennedy Center Honors where Sesame Street cast are wearing yellow feathers in memory of ‘Big Bird’ Carroll Spinney. pic.twitter.com/WcLeFm1F0a— David Smith (@SmithInAmerica) December 8, 2019
In addition, Sesame Street veteran Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on Sesame Street from 1971 to 2015, expressed sadness over the death of her longtime friend and co-star.
“I’m heartbroken that this happened on this particular day,” Manzano said. “But I’m glad we’re all together.”
On the red carpet, Elmo puppeteer Ryan Dillon described Spinney as “an incredible person” and his biggest inspiration.
“We’re still reeling a little bit and I think the world is going to miss what he brought to it,” the Sesame Street puppeteer said. “He’s here tonight. He’s here tonight.”
Rudman said he knew Spinney for 20 years and that he was a “genius” and a “sweet man.” The Cookie Monster voice actor praised his late Sesame Street co-star’s talent and said he will always miss him.
Kennedy Center chairman David Rubenstein addressed Spinney’s death before the second half of the awards presentation.
“We are all saddened by his loss and the tribute tonight to Sesame Street is in his honor,” Rubenstein told the audience.
CBS’s upcoming Kennedy Center Honors television special will include a special segment in honor of Caroll Spinney, per the Los Angeles Times. CBS entertainment vice president Jack Sussman said a special tribute to the late Sesame Street icon will be produced and added to the TV broadcast set to air on December 15.