Big Bird Puppeteer Shares Sad Story About His Happiest Fan

big bird sesame streetIn a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" Q&A thread, Caroll Spinney, the man behind Sesame Street's Big Bird, told a sad story that will absolutely crush your heart. It's about a terminally ill boy's last dying wish.


When a Redditor asked Spinney about his most meaningful interaction with a child, the puppeteer recalled his experience with a little boy who was dying of cancer -- and whose only joy in life was watching Big Bird on television.

More from The Stir: Teen Dying of Cancer Gives Up Her Last Week for Incredible Cause

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."

Wow, what a bittersweet tale. Of course, we always feel for the parents of a child who dies so young, especially when it's after a long struggle with an illness like cancer. But how wonderful that Spinney was able to usher Joey out of this life with a smile on his face. 

Spinney says that through that dad's letter, "I could see that what I say to children can be very important."

Isn't it amazing, the power these characters have in our children's imagination. A few minutes of Spinney's time and attention made a world of difference for one family. It must have been an incredibly humbling experience for the Spinney, too.

81-year-old Carol Spinney has been the puppeteer behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for 46 years. A new documentary about him, called I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story has just been released.

Are there any larger-than-life characters your kids consider their friends?


Image via Mike Lawrie/Getty Images Entertainment

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