How Carroll Spinney, voice of Big Bird, made dying fan smile

Since the first season of Sesame Street back in 1969, sweet ol’ Big Bird has become one of the most memorable characters from childhood for millions of people around the world.

The man behind Big Bird — the puppetand voice — has been played since the start by a man named Carroll Spinney, and on a recent session of Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA), the man behind the yellow feathered marvel told one of the sweetest and most heart-wrenching tales you’ve probably ever heard.

spinney big bird sesame street

Big Bird makes one boy’s dream come true

After introducing himself as “the lucky puppeteer who has brought life to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for the last 46 years,” and giving a little plug to the documentary about his life, I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, he started taking questions from the fans.

One Reddit user asked, “What has been your most meaningful interaction with a child during filming? Or maybe from someone who grew up watching you and relayed a poignant story?”

Here’s the story Spinney told in reply.

Okay, here’s one.

This is a very sad story, but it’s real.

I got a letter from a fan who said his little boy, who was 5 years old, his name was Joey, he was dying of cancer.

And he was so ill, the little boy knew he was dying.

So the man, in his letter, asked if I would call the little boy. He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television.

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So once in a while, he wouldn’t see Big Bird on some days, because he wasn’t necessarily in every show. So he asked could I telephone him, and talk to the boy, tell him what a good boy he’s been.

So I took a while to look up a phone, because this was before cell phones. And they got a long cord to bring a phone to the boy.

reddit i am big birdAnd I had Big Bird say “Hello! Hello Joey! It’s me, Big Bird!”

So he said “Is it really you, Big Bird?”

“Yes, it is.”

I chatted a while with him, about ten minutes, and he said “I’m glad you’re my friend Big Bird.”

And I said “I’d better let you go now.”

He said “Thank you for calling me Big Bird. You’re my friend. You make me happy.”

And it turns out that his father and mother were sitting with him when the phone call came. And he was very, very ill that day. And they called the parents in, because they weren’t sure how long he’d last.

And so his father wrote to me right away, and said “Thank you, thank you” – he hadn’t seen him smile since October, and this was in March – and when the phone was hung up, he said “Big Bird called me! He’s my friend.”

And he closed his eyes. And he passed away.

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And I could see that what I say to children can be very important.

And he said “We haven’t seen our little boy smile in MONTHS. He smiled, as he passed away. It was a gift to us. Thank you.”

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One Response

  1. I just watched ‘I am Big Bird’ and cried almost the whole time. This gave me some more tears. Carrol Spinney is such a loving good human being. He loves his wife and kids and he loves making children feel special. What a great job to have in life.

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