Big Bird and the gang of PBS' "Sesame Street" celebrates 45 years on the air this month. Becoming a touchstone for childhood in America since its 1969 debut, the show still boasts about 850,000 viewers per episode among kids ages 2-5 in the U.S.
But the show, created by Muppets puppeteer Jim Henson, hasn't always been in the spotlight just for teaching preschoolers the alphabet or how to behave.
Here are some of the most memorable and controversial moments from "Sesame Street":
1. Mr. Hooper dies
Kids today likely have no idea who Sesame Street's shopkeeper Mr. Hooper was. But when actor Will Lee, who played Hooper in the early years of the show, suddenly died in 1982, it presented the show's producers with the problem of breaking the news to young viewers. After debating over whether Mr. Hooper should "retire" or not, the show decided it was best to have Big Bird grapple with the death of his friend. Some parents felt the show exposed the idea of death to kids too soon, as Business Insider reported.
2. Kami has HIV
Introduced to South African viewers in 2002, Kami was the first puppet to address HIV and AIDS. While some adults felt Kami promoted a "gay-friendly" agenda (despite the fact that Kami was born with the disease, contracting it from her heterosexual parents), others like President Bill Clinton defended the show's choice to address the disease with young children. Clinton even went so far as to film an HIV public service announcement with Kami in tow.
3. Bert, Ernie and all those rumors
The producers at Sesame Workshop have long said that any affection between live-in best buds Bert and Ernie ends at friendship. But the rumors of a homosexual relationship between the two still permeates pop culture. Last year, Sesame Workshop had to reiterate its stance on Bert and Ernie's relationship after the New Yorker Magazine ran cover art of the two muppets cuddling on the couch while watching news about the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the Defense of Marriage Act, effectively making gay marriage legal.
4. Katy Perry's almost-there wardrobe
Singer Katy Perry's performance of "Hot N' Cold" with Elmo was cut from the show in 2010 after Perry showed up in a strapless, low-cut top that producers said was inappropriate for preschoolers. Perry later spoofed the incident on Saturday Night Live.
5. Oscar the Grouch mocks the media
Oscar the Grouch turned his garbage pail into a newsdesk in 2009, mocking Fox News in a sketch where a viewer phones in to say she'll only watch "Pox News" from now on. "Now there's a trashy news show," the muppet caller says. The show's producers later admitted they "should've resisted" the urge to poke fun at Fox.
Diversity has often been a topic on "Sesame Street," but in 2006, just as Sesame Street was set to hit the Israeli airwaves after a resurgence in funding, Mahboub was introduced. Billed as a 5-year-old Arab who also spoke Hebrew, the appearance of an Arab character in a show for kids enraged many Jews in Israel.
7. "Sesame Street" edits the early years
Cookie Monster smokes a pipe, Big Bird has scary hallucinations and Grover takes tips on civil disobedience from hippies. Those are just some of the more taboo subjects addressed in the early years of "Sesame Street" that earned parts of the show an "adults only" warning when the show debuted on digital streaming in 2007.
8. Snuffleupagus appears
The wooly mammoth with a heart of gold, Aloysius Snuffleupagus, was originally created to be Big Bird's imaginary friend. But producers in 1985 decided that the rest of the cast should be able to see Snuffleupagus. Show creators worried that if the show depicted adults disbelieving Big Bird's claims that Snuffleupagus existed, it would deter children who were victims of abuse from telling adults the truth.
9. Cookie Monster meets his match
As childhood obesity came to the nation's attention in the last decade, Sesame Workshop decided to put Cookie Monster on a new diet in 2005. Introducing Veggie Monster, the show began airing segments pushing cookies as a "sometimes food." While the move was motivated in response to the health issue, others applauded the change amid the views that Cookie Monster's obsession with sweets made him — as the New York Times reported — "Child's First Addict."
10. Elmo's speech
Elmo rose to the forefront of "Sesame Street" in the mid-1990s with the meteoric success of the "Tickle Me Elmo" doll. Though introduced in 1984, Elmo grew more dynamic as time passed, but his trademark "baby talk" way of speaking turned off some adults, who argued that Elmo was teaching kids improper grammar. The producers argued that, as a 3-year-old, Elmo was still polishing his speaking skills.
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