Caroll Spinney, who has played iconic Muppets Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the kids' show Sesame Street since it began in 1969, is retiring at the age of 84, and his last episode will tape this week, the New York Times reports. His final voice recordings will be heard in the show's 50th anniversary celebration, which will air on HBO next year and in 2020 on PBS.
"I always thought, how fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?" Spinney told the Times. "Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life."
Spinney was recruited by creator Jim Henson in 1969, and has appeared in so many of the show's 4400 episodes that Sesame Workshop has lost count. Spinney retired from operating the Big Bird puppet in 2015, and has only provided the voice since then. Matt Vogel, who has been Spinney's Big Bird apprentice since 1996, will take over the part.
Spinney's own personality is part of the character and has influenced Sesame Street as a whole. "Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on 'Sesame Street,' and that's Caroll's gift to us," Jeffrey Dunn, the president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, told the Times. "I think it's fair to say that Caroll's view of the world and how we should treat each other has shaped and defined our organization."
Sesame Street is available to stream on HBO GO.