The documentary I Am Big Bird—following the life of veteran muppeteer Caroll Spinney—doesn’t premiere until next week, but many of the film’s most interesting details are out today thanks to the New York Post. Among them: Spinney is related to Barack Obama, has used the suit to hide his tears and was a planned crewmember of the doomed Challenger mission.

According to Spinney, Big Bird, costume and all, was originally scheduled to be on board the Space Shuttle Challenger in order to get “the children of America to be more interested in NASA.” The suit, however, wouldn’t fit and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe took his place, dying in the subsequent explosion.

Spinney also says he has used the Big Bird suit to hide his weeping on several occasions, including during a period of suicidal depression. From the NY Post:

For one thing, the full-body costume means he can’t easily interact with cast members. For another, it means he can cry without anyone noticing.

He’s done it a few times, most notably while singing “Bein’ Green” at mentor Jim Henson’s funeral; another was during the darkest period of his life, when divorce and depression made him thankful the suit hid his tears.


One day on set, a crew member complimented his Big Bird acting. She couldn’t see the tears streaming down his face inside the suit

Lastly, the Big Bird performer and President Obama apparently share a great-grandfather, making them ninth cousins, twice removed.

“[A cousin] gave me a whole family tree that proves it,” Spinney told the Post.


[Image via Shutterstock]