Friday 24 November 2017

Sesame Street's Big Bird tells deeply moving story of his impact on a dying child

Big Bird from Sesame Street, played by actor Caroll Spinney
Big Bird from Sesame Street, played by actor Caroll Spinney
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The actor who plays Big Bird in Sesame Street has revealed a deeply moving story of meeting a young terminally ill fan.

Caroll Spinney (81) has played the 8ft tall yellow bird on the kids' TV show for 46 years and his work is the subject of a new documentary, 'I am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story'.

Caroll Spinney
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

To celebrate the release of the doc, Spinney took part in what turned out to be a fascinating Reddit AMA with fans.

One story he told about his meeting with a child with cancer was particularly affecting.

Asked about his “most meaningful interaction with a child during filming” he said:

"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.”

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