While Sesame Street is celebrating 50 years, it has not been all “sunny days.” The show is known for its iconic characters, both muppet and person. Yet, at times, it has also had to reckon when their deaths.
The show, known for its handling of difficult subjects, at times addressed the death of an actor. Most notably was the landmark episode, “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” which aired after the death of the original actor, Will Lee.
As his replacement, David, explained, “We all feel sad, Big Bird.”
Caroll Spinney Is the Puppeteer Behind Big Bird
The puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, Caroll Spinney, passed away in 2019. According to Deadline, the 85-year-old passed away from Dystonia.
“Caroll was an artistic genius whose kind and loving view of the world helped shape and define Sesame Street from its earliest days in 1969 through five decades, and his legacy here at Sesame Workshop and in the cultural firmament will be unending,” the Sesame Workshop wrote when announcing his dead.
The statement continued, “His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird who brought joy to generations of children and countless fans of all ages around the world, and his lovably cantankerous grouch gave us all permission to be cranky once in a while.”
Among his other characters were Granny Bird, Bruno the Trashman, Beautiful Day Monster, revealed the Rolling Stones. However, as his illness set in he stepped away from donning the Big Bird suit in 2015, but remained the voice until 2018.
Mr. Hooper Was Played by Will Lee
Mr. Hooper was the most recognizable character on Sesame Street, according to a survey cited by the New York Times. Therefore, when the actor passed away at 74-years-old in 1982, the show had to figure out how his death.
‘He gave millions of children the message that the old and the young have a lot to say to each other,” Joan Ganz Cooney, president of the Children’s Television Workshop, told the New York Times.
Then, on Thanksgiving Day in 1983, the show aired the poignant, “Farewell, Mr. Hooper.”
According to the AV Club, the show worked with child psychologists to develop points of the grieving process to address throughout the episode. Spinney told the outlet, “It was probably the most sensitive show we have ever done. When we finished there were tears on all the actors’ faces. When I came out of the suit, I had to have a towel because I had been crying.”
The episode was largely praised, receiving a Peabody and a Daytime Emmy.
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