Actor, musician and children’s author widely known for his portrayal of one of the first regular characters on the children’s show “Sesame Street,” Bob McGrath, has died at the age of 90.
Bob McGrath, an actor, musician and children’s author widely known for his portrayal of one of the first regular characters on the children’s show “Sesame Street” has died at the age of 90.
McGrath’s passing was confirmed by his family who posted on his Facebook page on Sunday: “The McGrath family has some sad news to share. Our father Bob McGrath, passed away today. He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.”
Sesame Workshop tweeted Sunday evening that it “mourns the passing of Bob McGrath, a beloved member of the Sesame Street family for over 50 years.”
McGrath was a founding cast member of “Sesame Street” when the show premiered in 1969, playing films a friendly neighbor Bob Johnson. He made his final appearance on the show in 2017, marking an almost five-decade-long figure in the “Sesame Street” world.
The actor grew up in Illinois and studied music at the University of Michigan and Manhattan School of Music. He also was a singer in the 60s series “Sing Along With Mitch” and launched a successful singing career overseas in Japan.
“A revered performer worldwide, Bob’s rich tenor filled airwaves and concert halls from Las Vegas to Saskatchewan to Tokyo many times over,” Sesame Workshop said. “We will be forever grateful for his many years of passionate creative contributions to Sesame Street and honored that he shared so much of his life with us.”
He is survived by his wife, Ann Logan Sperry, and their five children. This story corrects that McGrath studied at the University of Michigan, not Maryland.
“A founding cast member, Bob embodied the melodies of Sesame Street like no one else, and his performances brought joy and wonder to generations of children around the world,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement. “We will be forever grateful for his many years of passionate creative contributions to Sesame Street and honored that he shared so much of his life with us.”
Beyond the television series, McGrath was one the most prominent human faces of the property across various film, video game and sing-a-long productions.
Born June 13, 1932 in Ottawa, Ill., McGrath studied music at the University of Michigan and, later, the Manhattan School of Music. McGrath married his wife, Ann Logan Sperry, in 1958.
Stepping into entertainment, he made his debut in 1962 as a singer with Mitch Miller’s PG-rated ensemble. Miller had a hit TV series and string of records under the “Sing Along With Mitch” banner that featured wholesome singers delivering pop standards. McGrath also appeared with Miller’s ensemble for a residency at Las Vegas’ Desert Inn during the summer of 1964. At a time when Beatlemania was sweeping the nation, McGrath was delivering “Danny Boy” and “On the Street Where You Live” in a Vegas showroom.
By the mid-1960s, McGrath was actively pursuing his solo recording career as well as acting. In 1966 he signed with Columbia Records’ Japanese label, Nippon Columbia. For a time McGrath performed regularly in Japan.
In 1969, McGrath stepped into his signature role on “Sesame Street.” The pathbreaking children’s program, championed by media pioneer Joan Ganz Cooney, was a pop culture force from its debut on the then-fledging PBS network in November 1969.
The series marked the medium’s most significant effort to use television as a vehicle with national scale for reaching small children with educational content. McGrath was part of an ensemble of actors who shared the “Sesame Street” screen with the distinctive Muppet characters created by Jim Henson, another media visionary, that included Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster and Grover.
McGrath was indelibly associated with “Sesame Street” for the rest of his career. But he never expressed public frustration with typecasting. In addition to the weekly TV series, McGrath appeared in numerous “Sesame Street”-related productions such as 1996’s “Sesame Street: Elmo Saves Christmas,” the 1985 theatrical release “Follow That Bird” and 1978’s “A Special Sesame Street Christmas.” He also made numerous appearances on behalf of the show in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and “The Mike Douglas Show,” among other specials.
“Not only is it a great job working with great people, but knowing the impact that ‘Sesame Street’ has had on millions of kids all over the world has to be the most gratifying thing that anyone could possibly hope for. Having the opportunity of doing this has been phenomenal,” McGrath told the Television Academy’s Archive of American Television in 2004.
McGrath is survived by his wife, Ann McGrath, who is 89, his five children and eight grandchildren