Popular culture lost one of its greatest behind-the-scenes icons on Dec. 8 when Sesame Street voice actor and puppeteer Caroll Spinney passed away at age 85. The Massachusetts-born, Connecticut-based talent spent years lending his voice to beloved characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.
As is the case with many multi-media entertainers, the longtime Sesame Workshop employee's career crossed paths a few times with country music legends, including Follow That Bird co-star Waylon Jennings and Sesame Country duet partners Crystal Gayle, Tanya Tucker and Glen Campbell.
Spinney took part in Sesame Street's inaugural season in 1969 and remained part of co-founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett's Daytime Emmy Award-winning TV show until retiring last year. In that time, Spinney made the jump to the big screen, first through Big Bird's small role in 1979's The Muppet Movie and eventually as the star of 1985's Follow That Bird.
Follow That Bird featured several musical numbers for its lead character. The most famous of which, "Ain't No Road Too Long," pairs Sesame Street's resident yellow bird with a not-so-ornery Waylon Jennings.
Four years prior, Sesame Street latched onto the Urban Cowboy craze with its Sesame Country album. The Grammy winning children's album featured more Big Bird magic, including a soothing duet with Gayle titled "Songs." As if that's not surreal enough, Spinney's beloved character also joins Tucker for the raucous "You'll Never Take the Texas Out of Me."
Other duets, aside the pairing of The Count with Gayle's sister Loretta Lynn, feature Spinney's cantankerous grouch character, Oscar. Although he'd been promised a chance to sing with his hero "The Wichita Trashman," Oscar makes the most of his chance to sing with some other cowpoke named Glen Campbell.
In all, that's not a bad four-year run of country music encounters for a legendary puppeteer whose voice connected with children on their level.
"I think most people completely forget what it was like being a kid by the time they grow up," Spinney told the New York Times in 1982. "But I never got over it. It was almost a problem for me, in fact, trying to grow up enough, even when I went into the Air Force."
For more on Spinney, check out his memoir The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons From a Life in Feathers and Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker's 2014 documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story.
Per the New York Times, Spinney had lived for some time with dystonia, which causes involuntary muscle contractions.
— Matt Oswalt (@MattOswaltVA) December 8, 2019
Much like his longtime boss Jim Henson, Big Bird has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On the day of Spinney's passing, relatives honored a puppetry legend by placing a stuffed toy and flowers at Big Bird's Walk of Fame marker.