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Spinney's wife, Deb, said he's much more like Big Bird than Oscar, who, according to Spinney, was inspired by a grouchy waiter at an old seafood restaurant in Manhattan and the voice from a New York City cabbie who once gave Spinney a lift.

In an emotional statement on the Sesame Workshop website, Spinney announced he would be stepping aside from his iconic role.

Spinney will work on a final show this week, which will be used for Sesame Street's 50th-anniversary celebrations in 2019.

The actor behind Big Bird is retiring after 50 years.

While Big Bird was initially conceived as a "a amusing, dumb country yokel", Spinney encouraged producers to allow him to play the character as if "he's a child, a surrogate". "Big Bird has always had the biggest heart on 'Sesame Street, ' and that's Caroll's gift to us", Jeffrey Dunn, the president and chief executive of Sesame Workshop, told the Times. He had met Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962, and Henson invited him to be a part of this new show he was creating.

"Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul", he said. The role requires its puppeteer to hold his arm high in the air throughout, in order to maneuver Big Bird's head.

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A few things have remained constant at Sesame Street since the children's show debuted on PBS in 1969, and one of them is the presence of puppeteering legend Caroll Spinney. And even Oscar, once in a while!

Impressed by his talent for ad-libbing, Henson asked Spinney to take on the role. Vogel is the show's "Puppet Captain" and also performs Count von Count.

Moving forward, Big Bird and Oscar will be respectively played by puppeteers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson, both of whom Spinney has mentored for more than 20 years.

"Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning", said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop.

Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch became fixtures of American pop culture, launching Spinney's career and giving him the chance to bring the characters to audiences around the world.