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Big Bird Costume Creator Dies

Costume designer Kermit Love, who helped puppeteer Jim Henson create Big Bird and other SESAME STREET, has died at age 91, per the ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Love died from congestive heart failure Saturday in Poughkeepsie, near his home in Stanfordville, New York, Love's longtime partner, Christopher Lyall, told THE NEW YORK TIMES.

In addition to his work with Henson, Love designed for some of ballet's most prominent choreographers, including Twyla Tharp, Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. He also created costumes and puppets for film and advertising, including the Snuggle bear from the fabric softener commercials.

Before SESAME STREET premiered in 1969, Henson designed the original sketches of Big Bird, and Love built the 8-foot, 2-inch yellow-feathered costume.

It was Love's idea to add a few feathers designed to fall off to create a more realistic look. "The most important thing about puppets is that they must project their imagination, and then the audience must open their eyes and imagine," he told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1981.

Love also helped design costumes and puppets for Mr. Snuffleupagus, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster, among others. He appeared on the show as Willy, the neighborhood's resident hot dog vendor.

Love always insisted Henson's famous frog wasn't named for him, according to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Caroll Spinney, who has played Big Bird since SESAME STREET began, said he knew Love was very ill but did not know he had died until Tuesday.

"Kermit was definitely a totally unique person," 74-year-old Spinney said. "He looked very much like Santa Claus but was a little bit more like the Grinch."

In addition to designing Big Bird, "Kermit really helped me with dramatic coaching, and he was wonderful at that," Spinney said.

Love, born in 1916, got his start making puppets for a federal Works Progress Administration theater in 1935. He also designed costumes for Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, from there working with the New York City Ballet's costumer.

In his 2003 book, THE WISDOM OF BIG BIRD (AND THE DARK GENIUS OF OSCAR THE GROUCH): LESSONS FROM A LIFE IN FEATHERS, Spinney recalled that after a year on SESAME STREET, he felt he couldn't live in New York on his salary. Love told him to give it a month; the next week, Big Bird was on the cover of TIME magazine and Spinney couldn't imagine leaving.