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Bob McGrath, longtime star of 'Sesame Street,' has died at 90

Bob McGrath, is seen at the 2010 AFTRA AMEE Awards at The Plaza Hotel in 2010 in New York City. [Larry Busacca / Getty Images for AFTRA]
Bob McGrath, is seen at the 2010 AFTRA AMEE Awards at The Plaza Hotel in 2010 in New York City.

Bob McGrath, an actor and recording artist who was an original cast member on Sesame Street, died on Sunday. He was 90.

McGrath died of complications from a stroke, his daughter Cat McGrath confirmed to NPR.

The actor's death was announced by family members on social media: "He died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family," read the post on McGrath's Facebook page.

McGrath, one of Sesame Street's first human cast members who starred in the children's television show 1969 pilot, became a show regular for nearly five decades, playing the friendly neighbor character Bob Johnson, alongside Big Bird and a host of other beloved Muppets.

Sesame Workshop shared a statement on social media mourning "a beloved member of the Sesame Street family for over 50 years."

"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, whether teaching them the ABCs, the people in their neighborhood, or the simple joy of feeling music in their hearts," the Workshop said on Twitter.

Born in Ottawa, Ill., McGrath studied music at the University of Michigan and, later, the Manhattan School of Music. McGrath was a veteran performer by the time Sesame Street recruited him. In 1962, NBC brought on the tenor singer to perform as part of Mitch Miller's family-friendly ensemble TV show, Sing Along With Mitch. After the show was canceled two years later, McGrath continued to sing with the group, holding down a residency at Las Vegas' Desert Inn. He took his talents on tour in Japan, where he found a fervent teenage fanbase, according to the biography page on his website.

It was Dave Connell, a fellow University of Michigan alum who worked as a producer for Captain Kangaroo before executive producing Sesame Street, who approached McGrath about auditioning for the kids show.

McGrath, who hoped instead to break into the U.S. teenage market with his own show, according to his site, had no interest in working on a children's program at first.

But after he was shown tapes of Muppets creator Jim Henson's work, he told a crowd at a 2016 convention in Florida, he was "totally blown away."

"I thought, to heck with that teenage thing, this is what I want to do," he said. "Because it was obvious from the very, very beginning this was going to be a very unique and incredible show."

In 2017, Sesame Workshop cut McGrath and two other longtime cast members from the show, deciding not to renew their contracts. In response to the cast shakeup, the Workshop had pointed to its need to constantly adapt its content to children's educational needs.

Although McGrath ended his run on the show that year, he continued to make public appearances tied to Sesame Street, including his feature in the 2021 HBO documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.

McGrath, a father to five children and a grandfather to eight, is survived by his wife Ann Sperry.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.