“We all feel sad, Big Bird”
December 12, 2014 8:01 AM   Subscribe

To usher in the discussion of Mr. Hooper’s death, Big Bird gives out pictures that he’s drawn (done by Spinney himself) to his friends on the block. Big Bird already knows about Mr. Hooper’s death but he does not understand that death is for forever. “Big Bird, don’t you remember, we told you. Mr. Hooper died. He is dead,” Maria says. “Oh, yeah. I remember. Well, I’ll give it to him when he comes back,” Big Bird replies. There’s no philosophical explanation from the other characters as to why Mr. Hooper won’t return, no afterlife, no complications of spirituality. He’s just dead. It’s blunt, but it’s true.
That time on Sesame Street when they taught Big Bird about death.
posted by MartinWisse (51 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I was 7 when this episode aired and even though I'd stopped regularly watching Sesame Street when I started school, thanks to younger siblings, I still remember this very vividly. I cried just thinking about Mr. Hooper for many years after that episode aired.

(like until I was 17 probably)

(this is not a joke)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:06 AM on December 12, 2014 [23 favorites]

posted by mynameisluka at 8:11 AM on December 12, 2014 [24 favorites]

I was three and a half. I should ask my mom if she has any recollection of us watching this, but I don't remember it at all.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:11 AM on December 12, 2014

Cripes, I started tearing up just starting that article.
posted by sutt at 8:13 AM on December 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

My recollection is quite similar to MCMikeNamara's ..
posted by k5.user at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2014

I still feel sad. He was the first person I knew who died - well, "knew", to a three-year-old. They were my neighbors and friends, too.

I liked how Mr. Hooper's picture remained up in Big Bird's nest until...well, is it still there? It was as of a few years ago, when my nephew was watching Sesame Street.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was 12 and remember this episode like it was yesterday. I had stopped watching by then but I never missed a show as a little girl and I felt like Mr Hooper was my third grandfather so I tuned in. Cried like a baby. I still do. He was such a gentle, soul. I know he is proud of the legacy he left and the children he touched.
posted by pearlybob at 8:21 AM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Bird Bird is an exceptional vessel for audience emotions. Here he is, singing Bein' Green at Jim Henson's memorial.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

In case that doesn't make you cry enough, an old SomethingPositive strip to really depress you.
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

They still call it Hooper's Store (which makes me choke up a little), and the last time I watched it a year ago Mr. Hooper's picture was still up. The main cast nowadays must have grown up watching the show, if they were even alive when it first aired, but it's still Hooper's Store, dammit.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:24 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I vaguely remember Mr. Hooper being a thing, but by that time I'd already been through the death of my younger sister. My family couldn't afford a burial plot, so my mother's parents purchased a plot next to theirs, where they already had a dual tombstone chiseled with their names and dates of birth. No way can a yellow smudge on a small TV compete with the thought--no, the certainty--of losing big rough arms that smelled of WD-40 or a neck that smelled like flowers.

To me, the really-bad-in-retrospect family situation became "the way it had always been," but I was very young when Amy passed. Had I been 6 like Big Bird maybe things would be different.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2014

I Am Big Bird is a documentary about Carroll Spinney, who is now 80 and still Big Bird and Oscar.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Mr. Hooper was my favorite. We had the Fisher-Price Sesame Street "Apartment" Playset, and the fact that it had Mr. Hooper was my favorite part.

I was 13 and too old for Sesame Street when Lee passed away, but I still was pretty bummed out about it. My own grandfathers would both pass away in short order, but I was more prepared for that because of Lee's death and my feelings about it.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:33 AM on December 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Here is a transcript of the scene, for those of you with sufficient tissues.
posted by Mchelly at 8:33 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also a lovely previously on Will Lee.
posted by Mchelly at 8:35 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mr. Hooper was my favorite. We had the Fisher-Price Sesame Street "Apartment" Playset, and the fact that it had Mr. Hooper was my favorite part.

I had that! Man, I loved that set. It came with a garbage truck and you could put Oscar in the back of it. How cool was that? What other toys had garbage trucks?

After playing with it for a while I wrote to the Fisher Price company and suggested they make a Muppet playset. They wrote me back on Fisher Price letterhead and told me that it would cost them too much for the rights for the Muppets. A harsh lesson for a little kid. I wish I still had that letter.

Were there news stories about this episode before it aired?

I guess I was about 14 when Mr. Hooper died so I didn't watch the episode but I'm pretty sure it was big news and they discussed that Sesame Street was going to deal with it a certain way. Perhaps I'm misremembering and thinking about Jim Henson's death but I do remember hearing about the Big Bird / Mr. Hooper thing.
posted by bondcliff at 8:42 AM on December 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was 8 and still remember it vividly as well. I remember being sad then, and am surprised how much it still affects me. I really appreciate how well they talk about death without using euphemisms. Such brutal honesty. What a great show.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2014

This just reminds me how frustrating it is to hear NPR hosts saying, in violation of the AP Stylebook and several times each week, that this or that public figure "passed away."

They didn't "pass away," they died. We're pandering to old ladies at church socials these days, FFS.

I wonder if any show for kids would have the guts to do this again, what with us descending into the trough of a cycle of mumblemouthed nonsense these days.
posted by sonascope at 8:48 AM on December 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

posted by oceanjesse at 8:56 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

sonascope: They didn't "pass away," they died.
I forget precisely why or when I adopted the euphemism. Maybe an admonishment from my mother. There are enough people with tender feelings surrounding the death of a loved one that it seems like a small concession. I didn't expect for there to be strong feelings going the other way.

I do note that they didn't resort to euphemisms on Sesame Street, to their credit.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:07 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

They didn't "pass away," they died. We're pandering to old ladies at church socials these days, FFS.

I agree with you about the failings of "passed away" as a euphemism, but I don't think little old ladies are to blame. In my experience, it's they who tend to be the most stoic and frank when dealing with the subject of death (most likely because they've experienced so very much of it in their lives).

No, I'd say this soft type of death denialism is just another side product of good old American consumerism.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:09 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The memorial service for Jim Henson crushed me when I saw it.
posted by exparrot at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Big Bird is sweet and naïve, but Burt likes true crime podcasts. (Yes, Sesame Street did a Serial tweet. Not sure that was wise.)
posted by Nelson at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I watched this episode. I was 13, but my little brother was 6 and my sister was 11.
Sesame Street was incredibly important to me growing up. I learned to read before I started school, and that was all about the Street. My parents were quite surprised by my ability and not in the slightest bit engaged in pre-school learning the way we are today.

I loved Mr. Hooper (we all called him Mr. Looper because at some point my brother couldn't pronounce the "H") and Maria and Bob and Gordon and Olivia. They were nice and they didn't yell. I spent a lot of very happy time with Sesame Street.

We still love you Mr. Looper.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:25 AM on December 12, 2014 [10 favorites]

MCMikeNamara: "(like until I was 17 probably) (this is not a joke)"

They had a story about Mr. Hooper on NPR a couple years ago and I started crying so hard I had to PULL THE CAR OVER.

I was five, and we watched it as a family over Thanksgiving, as PBS instructed. I don't remember if I cried (probably), but I remember that my mom did.

Every now and then when my kids are watching Sesame the Hooper portrait is framed on screen when I happen to glance at the TV, and it always chokes me up.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember watching it as a child, but it aired when I was not quite three. They must have rerun it, or is death and a petulant giant bird my earliest memory?

That would go a long ways towards explaining my emu fetish and completely platonic affection for old dead men.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:27 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, came here to say: you think this is sad, try watching Big Bird singing "Green" at Jim Henson's funeral.
posted by Melismata at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I wonder how we get anything done what with the looming spectre of our own death constantly reminding us of the futility of life...

But then I have a delicious Diet PepsiTM and everything is ok again,
posted by blue_beetle at 9:28 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

My father just (like…last week…) died after about a week in home hospice care. I have three kids, ages 6, 4, & 2 and we did not softpedal concepts of death or dying. They had a day to visit Grandpa before he died and say goodbye in their own ways. It was much harder for us (the grownups, other than my dad) than them (i.e. the kids and my dad.)

Kids can be very literal and will take the things you tell them at face value. They can comprehend death and its permanence if you tell them that. Mumbo jumbo about Being With Jesus or Going to Sleep or Being Very Sick just makes them fear Jesus and sleeping and being sick.

Just like talking about sex, talking about death is way way harder for grownups than kids.

And BTW I hate most death euphemisms, “passed away” is one of the worst.
posted by axoplasm at 9:29 AM on December 12, 2014 [20 favorites]

I watched that episode, because it was talked about on other media outlets.

I was 14 and had totally grown up watching Mr. Hooper from 1972-1979 (by '79 I was watching SS for the high quality sketches). I remember seeing Lee playing a character on some commercial network show and being shocked, SHOCKED to realize that he was, after all, an actor.

By the time Lee died, my maternal grandfather had died some years before. I hadn't really processed that thanks to other issues in my life. And when Big Bird wailed, "Why does this have to happen?" and Maria replies "Just because..." it wasn't satisfying, because ambiguity is totally unsatisfying to teenagers, anyway, and then there I was with my old un-dealt with stuff. So I cried. Thankfully I was by myself, watching the episode on my aunt's new color TV that was in her room.

I cried a bit for Lee, but mostly for my grandfather, who died before I had the chance to know him - and I think a part of me cried from knowing that my childhood was rapidly going away, I knew it, and Lee's passing was representative of that.
posted by droplet at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

(For Mr. Looper. Hoop-ah! Hoop-ah!)

I was 8 when this episode aired. A few months later, they printed a companion kids book called I'll Miss You, Mr. Hooper. I was a voracious reader even as a kid, and for some reason, I remember the book affecting quite a lot more than the TV epiaode.

BTW, I still have the book. It got dusted off after 9/11 and Sandy Hook. I will give it to my son when he's older (he's 2 now).
posted by zooropa at 9:30 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

For the season.

Happy Hanukkah, Mr. Hooper. I still kind of get teary when the album version ("Merry Christmas from Sesame Street") gets to this track every year.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 9:33 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Elly Vortex - You made me curious enough to check. I found a screenshot of the nest on the Muppet wiki from an episode that aired Nov 21, 2014 and yes Mr. Hooper is still there on wall.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:48 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was too old for SS when this episode aired, but I remember vividly watching this. Maybe because it was on during a holiday or maybe I saw it in a rerun (PBS has been a default TV channel for me for decades).

The way it was handled was spot-on perfect. I felt so bad for Big Bird, but even more so for the rest of the inhabitants of Sesame Street as they watched him struggle with Mr. Hoopers death and were trying to explain exactly what it meant.

I'm sure I was in tears by the end of it. I'm in tears right now typing this.

I miss Mr Hooper, I miss the old Sesame Street, I miss (and spend a good portion of my adult life trying to reclaim) my child-like wonder about the world.

Just because.
posted by hippybear at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

There's a Sesame Street exhibit up right now at the Lincoln Center branch of the NYPL - looks like it's there through the end of January. They have a display case that has several different drafts of the shooting script for this episode, with markup and notes from different producers. It's fascinating and worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.
posted by yarrow at 10:01 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, god damn it. I watched the video again, even knowing what it was like...and still I managed to hold it together until Bob started talking to Big Bird, and you could tell he was having trouble holding back the tears.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I, um, didn't know that Mr Hooper had died? Somehow I missed it, and just reading this post on the blue made me tear up. I obviously shouldn't watch that video until I'm home. Dang, but Sesame Street was/is such a great show.
posted by ldthomps at 10:26 AM on December 12, 2014

I remember watching this episode as a kid. I was five. Although I watched a lot of Sesame Street, this is one of the few episode I remember in detail over 30 years later.
posted by tom_r at 12:16 PM on December 12, 2014

It's bothered me for a long time that I couldn't remember anything about him having died, although I knew that there'd been something about it on the show. (What I do remember is getting sort of misty watching reruns of the Sesame Street holiday special when I was older.)

Then I looked at the date -- first of all, I was 8, and so too old to be watching much, but also: that's just a couple of months before Dad died, and everything in that time frame is sort of a blur. :(

(and why the hell do I remember this sketch: "Bert loses his paperclip collection and feels angry and sad" instead of them talking about Mr. Hooper's death?! WTF kid brain.)

posted by epersonae at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2014

We are all Big Bird.

posted by ApathyGirl at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2014

Damnit, my dog just died and just about anything sets me off. Why don't I exercise my self-control and stay out of these kinds of threads. Sigh.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Damnit, my dog just died and just about anything sets me off. Why don't I exercise my self-control and stay out of these kinds of threads. Sigh.

Sometimes the only way out of the pain is through it, and these kinds of threads can help.

*hugs* I sympathize with you in your time of loss. That sucks.

posted by hippybear at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

The "who will make me birdseed milkshakes?" thing rings true.

My kids were tiny when their grandma died. My daughter's first shocked reaction was "but she made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and cut the crusts off for me!"
posted by edheil at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

BTW, I am thrilled to know that even Senator Joseph McCarthy couldn't push Mr. Hooper around.
posted by edheil at 2:01 PM on December 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

On the theme of what small children can comprehend about death, here is an interview with a 4½-year-old on the subject.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

My grandfather really was Mr. Hooper. And they owned a candy store in a small town in Ontario. As a (then) teenage SS fan I never really got Mr. Hooper, but I'm always impressed by the outpouring of affection for him. In some ways he's closer to me than my grandfather who lived far away and died when I was little.
posted by sneebler at 5:01 PM on December 12, 2014

I think I have this memory correct - I was seven when he died, so sort of just out of watching Sesame Street full time, but one of the local Detroit newscasts (we lived in SW Ontario, so had lots of US stations), included that clip as part of their coverage. I'm pretty sure that's how I saw this at the time.

And having just watched it again. Oy.

But also, so useful, even as an adult and being confronted with death. I dunno. There's just such a simple truth in how they put that together. So thoughtful. But yeah, it's the striking utterance "he's dead." It's sort of ripping off the band-aid, done, then let's cry together because that's what we have to do.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:53 PM on December 12, 2014

I didn't see this episode when it aired. I was living with my dad at the time, who was (and is) very anti-TV, so I hadn't seen Sesame Street or any other show for a couple of years.

And still, even though it's been 35-ish years since I last watched the show, as I scrolled down I saw one of the photos and thought "Gordon!" Early memories are strong.

I too hate "passed away" and other euphemisms. It's not the sort of thing one can generally vent about without being a jerk, so it's kind of nice to be able to say that here. "Passed away", "passed over", "transitioned", "departed"… fuck all that dissembling. They died, and it hurts like hell, and those of us left behind need to live with it.
posted by Lexica at 9:55 PM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was seven when Mr. Hooper died -- in hindsight, I was probably too old to still be watching SS, but I loved it anyway. It's the show that had taught me how to read before I'd even started nursery school. I remember being just devastated by this episode. That was the age when I was starting to develop a consciousness about things like death (my grandpa would die soon after this aired), so it came along at the right time in my life.
posted by mirepoix at 3:12 AM on December 13, 2014

Lulz @ "All we have now is memories ... I'm going to miss you Mr. Looper". That's pretty nasty gallows humor actually.
posted by dgaicun at 4:18 AM on December 13, 2014

Axoplasm. First, my condolences. I was in the same boat for a year. My mom died in 2012. My dad died in 2013 and was living with us for 6 months and in home hospice. Then January of 2014, our beloved dog died. We have a 5 year old and death wasn't going to avoid any of us. I know the outcome for my parents and even our dog. You just can't hide the facts that people/animals die. The only "solace" was that all were very old and very sick. We told our son what was going on. While I am still trying to figure out my spirituality, I couldn't see a reason not to mention that they are in heaven. It felt like it was too much of a blow to a 5 year old to say "well, they all died and that's it." Our son took my dad and our dog the hardest (he was only 3.5 when my mom died). He still does.

Little does he know that we have ashes of my parents, our dog (and our cat from many moons ago). The way we are going, he's going to inherit a big heap of ashes and think we're all weirdos.
posted by stormpooper at 9:26 AM on December 15, 2014

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