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Carroll Spinney, the man who has brought Big Bird (and more) to life on Sesame Street since 1969, has been making the interview rounds recently, sharing stories from his time on set. In his decades playing a beloved TV character, he’s had plenty of brilliant and interesting encounters, but Spinney recently spoke out to explain the moment that has been most impactful to him as a member of the Jim Henson Company. Unsurprisingly, it involved a child.
Spinney recently spoke out in an AMA about getting a letter from a fan whose young child was ill with cancer. He’s not the first or the last celebrity to ever meet with a sick child, but this story is special due to the fact that the child was 5-years-old and Big Bird was his hero. The boy’s father asked him to check in on the phone, so he called the kid up on the telephone and spoke with him for 10 minutes, talking in his Big Bird voice and making the kid's day. He left feeling satisfied about the encounter, but as it turns out, the boy had been very sick that day. He later heard back from the boy’s father.
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."
Spinney is really humble when he talks about the encounter in his AMA, noting that the interactions he has been able to have as Big Bird have sometimes been sad, but have often been important. The whole story is probably the biggest tearjearker you’ll read on the internet all day, made even more touching since it involves a beloved Sesame Street character, and clearly it has stuck with Spinney over time, as well.
Spinney’s currently promoting the documentary I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story, and he’s been sharing intimate stories as a result. The other day, he mentioned that Big Bird was almost a part of the doomed Challenger mission, but that the character was too big to fit in the shuttle and was later replaced. Carroll Spinney is now 81 years of age, and has spent a longtime in that Big Bird suit. I guess if you stick with something for long enough, you get plenty of unique stories out of it. You can check out the rest of his Reddit AMA, here.