Big Bird puppeteer retiring from ‘Sesame Street’ after nearly 50 years

Caroll Spinney attends SiriusXM's Town Hall with original cast members from Sesame Street commemorating the 45th anniversary in New York City in 2014

Spinney even met his wife of 45 years, Debra, on the Sesame Street set in 1973.

The Sesame Workshop released a video tribute to Spinney's time on the show (shown above), including archival footage of the pilot episode.

Spinney, 84, will retire after Thursday's taping of "Sesame Street" and the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch will be "passed on to new performers", The New York Times reported.

Jeffrey Dunn, president of Sesame Workshop, said Spinney's work over the past half century has been a gift to the world. "I said, 'I think Big Bird might be more useful to the show if he were a child learning all the things we were teaching in the show.' And so he didn't know the alphabet, even, for instance".

The two men stepping into Spinney's yellow and green shoes are Matt Vogel as Big Bird and Eric Jacobson as Oscar.

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch became fixtures of American pop culture, launching Spinney's career and giving him the chance to bring the characters to audiences around the world.

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Playing Big Bird all these years has been a big job, in part because of the beloved creature's oversized stature: 8 feet, 2 inches.

"Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn't feel like what I was doing was important", he said. "They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever".

Henson's original vision for Big Bird was just a "big, goofy guy", Spinney told NPR in 2015.

Now Vogel, having recently taken over performing both Kermit the Frog and Count von Count, will replace Spinney in the role of Big Bird entirely.

Big Bird and Oscar aren't going anywhere.

Spinney is one of the last surviving Sesame Street staffers who've been with the show since its beginnings. Two puppeteers who Spinney has personally trained for more than 20 years: Matt Vogel, now the "Puppet Captain" on Sesame Street and the performer of Count Von Count and Kermit the Frog for the Disney Muppets, will play Big Bird going forward.

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