Spinney was hosting a Reddit AMA on Thursday to generate awareness for his new documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. A Reddit user by the name man_mayo asked Spinney: "What has been your most meaningful interaction with a child during filming? Or maybe from someone who grew up watching you and relayed a poignant story?"
Spinney then responded with a heartbreaking, but touching, story of how he reached out to a terminally ill child while in the character of Big Bird. From Spinney's AMA:
- Okay, here's one.
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."
Spinney's story was received with overwhelming praise, with many Reddit users saying his story brought tears to their eyes.
"I just want to say I think it's amazing how much what you do impacts people's lives. This story made me tear up. Sesame Street was a big part of my childhood, thank you for what you do," wrote one Reddit user.
"Wow, in all the years I've been at Reddit, I've never read a post that made me cry. What a special story and thanks for sharing it," wrote another.
Spinney went on to answer other questions regarding topics like Jim Henson, Sesame Street and his acting career. But his story about Big Bird's phone call with the dying child was the highest voted in the thread. Spinney has been the voice of Big Bird and other characters on Sesame Street since 1969.