The Man Who Plays Big Bird Just Told the Most Depressing, Heartbreaking Story Ever

by John Boone 12:53 PM PDT, May 07, 2015
Photo: Getty Images

Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who has brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life for the past 46 years on Sesame Street answered fans’ questions during a Reddit Ask Me Anything. And he started it out by telling the most depressing story ever:

Someone asked, “What has been your most meaningful interaction with a child during filming?” Here’s Caroll’s response:

“Okay, here's one.
This is a very sad story, but it's real.
I got a letter from a fan who said his little boy, who was 5 years old, his name was Joey, he was dying of cancer.
And he was so ill, the little boy knew he was dying.
So the man, in his letter, asked if I would call the little boy. He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television.
So once in a while, he wouldn't see Big Bird on some days, because he wasn't necessarily in every show. So he asked could I telephone him, and talk to the boy, tell him what a good boy he's been.
So I took a while to look up a phone, because this was before cell phones. And they got a long cord to bring a phone to the boy.
And I had Big Bird say ‘Hello! Hello Joey! It's me, Big Bird!’
So he said ‘Is it really you, Big Bird?’
‘Yes, it is.’
I chatted a while with him, about ten minutes, and he said ‘I'm glad you're my friend Big Bird.’ And I said ‘I'd better let you go now.’
He said ‘Thank you for calling me Big Bird. You're my friend. You make me happy.’
And it turns out that his father and mother were sitting with him when the phone call came. And he was very, very ill that day. And they called the parents in, because they weren't sure how long he'd last.
And so his father wrote to me right away, and said ‘Thank you, thank you’ -- he hadn't seen him smile since October, and this was in March - and when the phone was hung up, he said ‘Big Bird called me! He's my friend.’
And he closed his eyes. And he passed away.
And I could see that what I say to children can be very important.
And he said ‘We haven't seen our little boy smile in MONTHS. He smiled, as he passed away. It was a gift to us. Thank you.’


WATCH: Big Bird dances with Michelle Obama on ‘Billy on the Street’

So much for sunny days sweeping the clouds away. So sweet. So sad. So many tears. Here is another story he told about how he met his future wife, Debra: “We were in a different studio, doing a special show, and this girl came up to me, and she had her little cousin on her hip and I started chatting with her,” he wrote.

He continued, “I was falling in love with her. Turns out I'd met her before, but I'm not good at recognizing people at all. Turns out we met 3 different times, and each time, I didn't know it was the same girl. Turns out we ended up together anyway. Getting to be Big Bird was the second greatest thing that ever happened to me. She's the number one.”

You can read more of Caroll’s answers here. And if you want to learn more about the man behind the bird, check out his new movie I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story on iTunes.

“It's a movie for anybody,” he explains. “It does have a few words that puts it into not suitable for children, but I don't think it would hurt any children. It's for children old enough to know that Big Bird isn't a real bird, just me.”

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