Bob McGrath Dead: ‘Sesame Street' Star Was 90
J. Kim Murphy

Bob McGrath, an actor and recording artist who became a generational icon as one of the original human stars of “Sesame Street,” died Sunday at his home in New Jersey. He was 90.

McGrath’s death was confirmed by his family members through a post on his Facebook page: “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 shared a statement mourning the “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,” reads Sesame Workshop’s statement. “A revered performer worldwide, Bob’s rich tenor filled airwaves and concert halls from Las Vegas to Saskatchewan to Tokyo many times over. 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.”

First appearing in the series pilot in 1969, McGrath played the friendly neighbor Bob Johnson, serving as a “Sesame Street” mainstay across five decades and 47 seasons of broadcast television. His final series appearance came in 2017, but McGrath did not step away from his association with the series after that, continuing to make public appearances at various events tied to “Sesame Street.”

During his time on the series, McGrath was featured in several of the show’s most iconic sequences, including musical performances of “People in Your Neighborhood.”

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