This week we’re celebrating the 50 year career of Caroll Spinney, who retired from his duties as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street last week at the age of 84.
Jarrod Fairclough – Hi, Caroll. I have no idea if you know who I am, but our paths have almost crossed a couple of times. In 2008 I visited the set of Sesame Street, as was told you had left just minutes earlier. In 2014 I missed a group Skype interview with you, and you apparently told the organizers you’d endevour to make it up to me. Of course that never happened, but that you even considered it was extremely generous. And then, just last year, I got to publically thank you in a video message on Matt Vogel’s Below The Frame, which was truly a dream come true.
But today, I’m going to thank you again, on behalf of myself and the millions, if not billions, of lives you have impacted since 1969.
Big Bird was everybody’s first best friend. Big Bird taught us our ABC’s and our 123’s, but he also taught us that people made mistakes, that your family is all around you, and even that it’s okay when people go away and don’t come back. There are life lessons to be had in every single Big Bird sketch, story or appearance, and it all eminates from the heart inside him, the heart inside of you, Caroll.
I also love how you were never afraid of making Big Bird look a little silly. Even the zany but beloved ‘ABC-DEF-GHI’ song could, in many other hands, be ridiculous, but the heart and soul you put in to that performance is enough that instead of odd or weird, Big Bird comes across as endearing and appealing, even if he does flail around the courtyard.
Big Bird also taught us it was okay to be sad. Will Lee’s death was devestating to everyone who ever loved Sesame Street, and the decision to explain Mr Hooper’s death was a brave one that could have gone poorly had it not been handled with delicate care from the writers, director and performers. Big Bird’s (and yours) genuine heartache is palpable, and this scene even now continues to help families world wide explain the concept of death and what it means going forward.
Big Bird also taught us how to get along with people who might be different to us, whether it be newcomer Julia, or the galaxy’s R2D2. Everyone in this world is different, and knowing that Big Bird loved us, no matter who we might be, was always a consoling fact in our early lives, and maybe even a little in adulthood, too.
Perhaps one of my favorite Big Bird moments was after the Good Birds Club has rejected him, and he realizes he’s perfect the way he is. This is such a powerful message that unfortunately isn’t heard nearly enough, so to have pre-schoolers, and really anyone hear it, is imperitive. Plus, I just like hearing Big Bird rap.
Then there’s the other side of the coin, Caroll – the grouchy side. Oscar the Grouch might go down as one of the best fictional characters in the history of the world. Oscar taught us a lot of things. Maybe not so much how to be, but perhaps more with how to deal with some of the grumpier people you might find in your life. Oscar taught us that pretty much every grump in the world actually has a heart of gold, and that a little love will generally wear them down, even if they don’t want to admit it.
Oscar also was the comic relief when Ernie and Bert weren’t around, and the playful nature you gave Oscar made him appealing rather than infuriating, so much so that he has stood the test of time and is still making people laugh 50 years later.
But perhaps Oscar’s best role was to show that there are a wide array of emotions that a human could feel, often at the same time. There was disgust and happiness, anger and love, frustration and friendliness. You emotions, Caroll, shone through your hand and that bit of felt and foam, and brought Oscar the Grouch to life, and the lessons in emotion are some of your best moments on Sesame Street.
Caroll, 700 words can’t even begin to say everything I want you to know, but if there’s anything I want to get across, it’s this – your work has influenced my life in more ways than you could ever imagine. The joy you’ve brought me is on a whole other level, and the lessons I’ve learnt through your performances as Big Bird and as Oscar are unparalleled. Thank you for dedicating your life to benefiting generations of kids for 5 decades, and know that you’ll be a beloved world treasure until the end of time.
Your biggest fan,