The new documentary, I Am Big Bird, profiles Caroll Spinney, the man who has been Sesame Street’s Big Bird for over 40 years.
He’s dined with heads of state, won Emmys and been named a living legend by the Library of Congress. But the 81-year-old puppeteer can’t bare to say goodbye to the character he cherishes, so will continue donning the yellow feathered suit, keeping his white-haired, bearded presence happily hidden underneath.
While Caroll’s peers have long since slipped into cozy retirements or passed away, he has held on with no intention of retiring. He has handpicked a successor who has waited, quite literally, in the wings, as the understudy for almost 20 years. Caroll also is the hand and voice of Oscar the Grouch, but Big Bird is the true expression of his soul, a character that he cherishes like a child.
Pure love runs through Caroll’s life: he found it first in his mother, a woman who not only handcrafted his first puppets, but protected Caroll from an abusive father. When Caroll’s first marriage to a woman “embarrassed” by his career ended in divorce, Caroll would find Debra, the love of his life. And then there was Jim Henson, who grew from boss to friend and whose death shattered Sesame Street colleagues.
The unconditional love that envelops Caroll’s life is captured in the hours of home video that went into the documentary, I AM BIG BIRD.
(WATCH the trailer below, or LISTEN to Scott Simon interview Caroll on NPR)
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