Big Bird Star Shares The Sweetest, Saddest Story About A Little Fan

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As the man behind Big Bird, 81-year-old Caroll Spinney brought a lot of joy and smiles to kids (and plenty of adults) over the years. But, when asked about his most meaningful interaction with a child, Spinney immediately goes to one memory. Brace yourselves — you’re going to need tissues for this one.

In a Reddit thread, the actor and puppeteer relayed a story about a little boy named Joey, age five, who was very sick. “He was so ill, the little boy knew he was dying,” Spinney wrote. Joey’s father wrote a letter to the Sesame Street star, asking if he would give the little guy a call. “He said the only thing that cheered him at all in his fading state was to see Big Bird on television.”

“So, once in awhile, he wouldn’t see Big Bird on some days, because he wasn’t necessarily in every show,” Spinney shared. “[The father] asked could I telephone [Joey], and talk to the boy, and 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.”

When Spinney got on the line, he remembers saying, “Hello! Hello, Joey! It’s me, Big Bird!”

“Is it really you, Bird Bird?” Joey asked. “Yes, it is,” Spinney responded.

They chatted for about 10 minutes, at which point Joey said: “I’m glad you’re my friend Big Bird.”

“And, I said ‘I’d better let you go now,’” said Spinney.  

“Thank you for calling me, Big Bird. You’re my friend. You make me happy.”

According to Spinney’s retelling, Joey’s mom and dad were also in the room that day: Joey had been very ill, and doctors thought he might not last much longer.

“His father wrote me right away, and said ‘Thank you, thank you,’” Spinner shared. The parents hadn't seen their son smile since October, and the call arrived in March. When the phone hung up, Joey said, "Big Bird called me!’ He’s my friend." And, then he closed his eyes and passed away.

At this point, it’s totally fair to pause for a sob break. (We definitely did.)

“I could see that what I say to children can be very important,” Spinney reflected in the post. “It was a gift to us,” said the father. “Thank you. 

Sesame Street is so much more than a show — it's a gift to us all. We can't wait wait to see Spinney's documentary about his life behind the yellow feathers, I Am Big Bird, in theaters now.
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