For nearly 50 years, in thousands of episodes (the precise count is unknown), Caroll Spinney has played two of Sesame Street’s most iconic characters: The show’s 8-foot-tall spirit of childhood innocence and curiosity, Big Bird, and his trashcan-dwelling inverse, Oscar The Grouch. And though it’s been some time since Spinney was actually underneath Big Bird’s feathers or Oscar’s lid, he’s continued to voice the characters after passing puppeteering duties to other Sesame Street cast members. But after this Thursday, he’ll retire from those roles as well.
The news comes from a New York Times profile of Spinney, which reflects on his career and the characters he’s portrayed for the last half century. His retirement brings an end to the longest tenure of any of the show’s Muppet performers (and the longest continuous stretch of any Muppet performer, period); Spinney has been with the series since its very first episode, when Oscar had orange fur and Big Bird was “a funny, dumb country yokel.” “I always thought, ‘How fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?’” Spinney told reporter Dave Itzkoff. “Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life.”
The character will be handed down to Matt Vogel, who in addition to inheriting Muppet fixtures including Kermit The Frog, Count Von Count, Floyd Pepper, and Sweetums, began serving as Spinney’s Big Bird apprentice in 1996. Eric Jacobson, who has taken over a number of roles originated by Frank Oz, will play Oscar. Spinney’s final Sesame Street episodes will air on HBO in 2019 and PBS stations in 2020.