Bob McGrath, the Illinois native who was one of the original stars of “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at age 90, his family announced.
“He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family,” said a post on the entertainer’s Facebook page.
As a young singer who grew up near Ottawa, Illinois, McGrath was one of four cast members hired for the launch of “Sesame Street” in 1969, playing a character named Bob alongside Matt Robinson as Gordon, Loretta Long as Susan and Will Lee as Mr. Hooper.
The public television show used the colorful, humorous, fast-paced style of TV commercials to relay lessons on letter and numbers as well as heavier subjects like children’s emotional health. Young viewers even learned about mortality when they were informed, sensitively, of Mr. Hooper’s death.
“We’ve always looked at children as just short people,” McGrath told the Sun-Times in 1998. “We’ve never talked down to them.”
McGrath interacted with humans and Muppets on “Sesame Street” for 45 seasons, until he was let go in 2016.
“The kids we were meant to reach, I think we’ve reached,” McGrath said in the 1998 interview. “They’ve grown up. They’re in their 30s now. They have kids of their own, our Sesame Seeds, and they come up to me and say: ‘Thank you very much. It made a major difference in our lives.’ ”
A tweeted statement from Sesame Workshop, which produces the show, said McGrath “embodied the melodies of ‘Sesame Street’ like no one else, and his performances brought joy and wonder to generations of children around the world, whether teaching them the ABCs, the people in their neighborhood, or the simple joy of feeling music in their hearts. A revered performer worldwide, Bob’s rich tenor filled airwaves and concert halls from Las Vegas to Saskatchewan to Tokyo many times over.”
McGrath was a frequent Chicago area visitor on his performing tours, singing popular tunes from the show including “Rubber Duckie,” “People in Your Neighborhood,” “Bein’ Green,” “Sing, Sing a Song” and the iconic theme song.
Before “Sesame Street,” McGrath sang old-time tunes as part of the vocal ensemble on conductor Mitch Miller’s 1960s NBC series “Sing Along With Mitch.”