To create a character — the complexity of skills necessary for the simplicity of execution — is an amazing thing. I was too old to be part of the target audience for Sesame Street when it premiered, but my younger brother was.
My whole family watched Sesame Street during those early years when it when it was a brand new thing. It was witty, clever, funny, and entertaining, but it also had heart. And its heart was Big Bird.
There was something ingenious about making the “child” character in the ensemble also the largest, and all the other characters treated this sweet innocent giant with such gentleness.
At Big Bird’s core, literally, was Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer inside the suit, bringing Big Bird to life with something unique inside of him. Somehow this adult man could become a child again — questing, learning, feeling, growing as all children do.
It was a gift, especially for children making the same journey that Big Bird was making. That’s what true artistry is, a generous gift shared with us all.
This clip of Big Bird struggling with the death of one of the original Sesame Street character, after the actor playing the character had passed away provides a taste of what that gift was.
Imagine a child who had lost someone important — like a grandparent, a parent, or a teacher — seeing Big Bird struggling to process the same emotions and experience and loss. Hell, I’m decades past childhood but I can still recognize Big Bird’s feelings and confusion in myself.
As I said before, a gift for us all.
Rest in Peace, Caroll Spinney.