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Sesame Street puppeteer dies at age 85

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Lynn Finkel, stage manager for Sesame Street, slates a taping with Big Bird on Thursday, April 10, 2008 in New York. Being Big Bird is sweaty, physical work. But puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who has worked on Sesame Street for nearly four decades playing both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has no wish to be anywhere else. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Caroll Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at the age of 85 at his home in Connecticut, according to the Sesame Workshop.

The Sesame Workshop said in a statement that the legendary puppeteer lived for some time with dystonia, which causes involuntary muscle contractions.

Spinney voiced and operated the two major Muppets from their inception in 1969 when he was 36, and performed them almost exclusively into his 80s on the PBS kids’ television show that later moved to HBO.

“Before I came to ‘Sesame Street,’ I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important,” Spinney said when he announced his retirement in 2018. “Big Bird helped me find my purpose.”

FILE – In a May 21, 2000 file photo, Carroll Spinney, center, best known for his TV character “Big Bird” from Sesame Street, receives an honorary doctor of Humane Letters degree from Eastern Connecticut State University President David G. Carter, right, during commencement in Willimantic, Conn. Spinney, who gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street,” died Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 at his home in Connecticut, according to the Sesame Workshop. He was 85. (AP Photo/Steve Miller, File)

Through his two characters, Spinney gained huge fame that brought international tours, books, record albums, movie roles, and visits to the White House.

“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, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending,” the Sesame Workshop said.

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