Kennedy Center Honors will pay tribute to ‘Sesame Street’ puppeteer Caroll Spinney

Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch
Caroll Spinney, who died Sunday at 85, with his “Sesame Street” character Oscar the Grouch.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The CBS broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors will include a special tribute to Caroll Spinney, the originating puppeteer for the iconic “Sesame Street” characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, who died Sunday.

Spinney died on the weekend that “Sesame Street,” the legendary educational children’s series, became the first TV show to receive its own Kennedy Center Honor. The medal was presented at a Washington, D.C., ceremony on Saturday, and the show’s cast performed during the accompanying show that was taped Sunday for airing Dec. 15 on CBS.

Jack Sussman, executive vice president for specials, music and live events for CBS Entertainment, told The Times that a special tribute to Spinney will be produced and added to the broadcast.


Big Bird, the 8-foot-2-inch canary played by Spinney until his retirement last year, was front and center during the presentation Sunday. Matt Vogel played the character, doing shtick in the Kennedy Center audience with Tom Hanks, who was on hand for the tribute to another honoree, actress Sally Field.

Caroll Spinney, the “Sesame Street “ puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, died Sunday at age 85. TV critic Robert Lloyd has this appreciation.

Dec. 8, 2019

David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center, noted Spinney’s death before the second half of the presentation.

“We are all saddened by his loss, and the tribute tonight to ‘Sesame Street’ is in his honor,” Rubenstein said from the stage.

Spinney, 85, died Sunday at his home in Connecticut after living with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, for years. He had been part of “Sesame Street” since its launch on Nov. 10, 1969.