Caroll Spinney: Sesame Street puppeteer dies at 85

Actor retired from show last year

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 09, 2014 Caroll Spinney "Oscar and Big Bird" attends SiriusXM's Town Hall with original cast members from Sesame Street commemorating the 45th anniversary of the celebrated series debut on public television moderated by Weekend TODAY co-anchor Erica Hill in New York City.  Caroll Spinney, the big-hearted Muppeteer who play the Sesame Street character Big Bird for almost a half-century, died on December 8, 2019, Sesame Workshop announced. He was 85. / AFP / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Robin Marchant
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Puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who brought Big Bird to life on the US children's show Sesame Street for half a century, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

Spinney died at home in Connecticut after living with movement disorder dystonia for some time, said Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organisation that produces the show.

The actor announced his retirement from the show last year, having hand-picked successors to play Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, the two characters he helped to create.

"Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades," his colleagues said.

"His legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending."

"His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world.

"And his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while."

Spinney's death came as the show marked its 50th birthday and as it prepared to receive one of America's top cultural awards, to go with its nearly 200 Emmys, at a gala on Sunday in Washington for the Kennedy Centre Honours.

Spinney won several Daytime Emmys for his work, and a Lifetime Achievement Award. He also earned a Grammy Award for best children's recording.

At the time of his retirement, he was quoted as saying that his Big Bird alter ego had "opened my mind and nurtured my soul".

His life was the subject of the 2014 documentary, I am Big Bird: the Caroll Spinney Story.

Big Bird, the giant yellow creature with the huge beak, is more than 2.5 metres tall.

In 2000, he was named a Living Legend by the US Library of Congress, and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.