Big Bird has brought decades of laughter and smiles to Sesame Street fans worldwide, but 5-year-old Joey's devotion to the character takes the cake. As Big Bird puppeteer Caroll Spinney recalled in a Thursday, May 7 session of Reddit's Ask Me Anything Q&A, the yellow feathered friend to many helped make the little boy smile just before he took his dying breath.
"This is a very sad story, but it's real," Spinney, 81, told Reddit users of Joey, who was in the end stages of his cancer battle. The boy's father wrote to the Sesame Street puppeteer asking if he could call young Joey as Big Bird. "He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television," Spinney wrote.
"And I had Big Bird say 'Hello! Hello Joey! It's me, Big Bird!’” Spinney (who also serves as Oscar the Grouch) continued. "I chatted a while with him, about 10 minutes, and he said 'I'm glad you're my friend, Big Bird.'"
The most gut-wrenching part of Spinney's good deed? As soon as he hung up the phone with Joey, the boy gushed about the conversation, took his final breath, closed his eyes, and passed away. The puppeteer, who tells his story of life as Big Bird in the new documentary I Am Big Bird, learned of Joey's death through a second letter from his father. "We haven't seen our little boy smile in months," the family's note read. "He smiled, as he passed away. It was a gift to us. Thank you."
Concluded Spinney: "[Through that letter] I could see that what I say to children can be very important."
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