WASHINGTON: Puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life on the iconic children’s television show “Sesame Street” for half a century, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

Spinney died at home in Connecticut after living for some time with the movement disorder dystonia, which causes uncontrollable muscle contractions, according to a statement from Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization that produces the show.

The actor retired from the show last year, having hand-picked successors to play both Big Bird and Oscar — two very different characters he helped create, delighting millions of children.

Those characters — one a towering yellow bird, the other a grumpy, green monster in a trash can — existed in what many considered a magical world created by puppet master Jim Henson and including pals Bert and Ernie, the lovable Cookie Monster and the goofy Kermit the Frog.

Spinney once told The New York Times he had modeled Oscar the Grouch on a cross between a “magnificently rude” restaurant waiter and a ranting New York cab driver.

In this file photo taken on October 9, 2014 Caroll Spinney “Oscar and Big Bird” attends SiriusXM’s Town Hall with original cast members from Sesame Street commemorating the 45th anniversary of the celebrated series debut on public television moderated by Weekend Today co-anchor Erica Hill in New York City. Photo: AFP

In 1973, a year after then US president Richard Nixon made his dramatic trip to China, Spinney flew to Beijing for a performance dressed as Big Bird — he said he only paid half-price for the plane ticket because the character “was only six years old.”

When Henson died in 1990, Big Bird sang Kermit’s sweetly melancholy tune “It’s Not Easy Being Green” at a memorial service.

“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,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement.

“His enormous talent and outsized heart were perfectly suited to playing the larger-than-life yellow bird that 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.”

Poignantly, Spinney’s death came as the show marked its 50th birthday, and as it is lauded with one of America’s top cultural awards — the Kennedy Center Honors — at a gala Sunday in Washington. – AFP