“Big Bird,” said Caroll Spinney, “opened my mind and nurtured my soul.” From the show’s 1969 debut, the puppeteer inhabited the yellow costume imagined by series creator Jim Henson. At 84, Spinney — who also gave life, and voice, to Oscar the Grouch — has announced his retirement.

He said in a statement that “the guardianship” of both “alter egos” has been entrusted to handpicked actors. “He can be all things that children are,” Spinney told The New York Times, of 8-ft., 2-in., Big Bird’s irresistible character. “He can learn with the kids.”

When your man cheats and lies, that’s bad news. If he’s married? Extra-bad news. If he happens to be President of the United States, that’s Scandal, starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, the all-powerful Ms. Fix-it who handles high-profile political crises with aplomb, but when it comes to her own heart, not so much.

After seven seasons of D.C. power brokers behaving very, very badly, and Olivia’s series-long affair with POTUS (Tony Goldwyn) getting very, very steamy, the soapy thriller closed in an April 19 finale that tied up story lines but left Olivia’s romantic future uncertain. “I love that [creator Shonda Rhimes] left us wondering,” Washington said. “We get to [use] our own imaginations to complete this story.”

It was once a universally recognized image of young love — teens head-to-head at the malt shop, sipping a shared shake through two straws. Today, towns like Santa Barbara, California, are passing ordinances banning commercial use of plastic straws as pollution worries increase.

Starbucks, dispensers of more than 1 billion straws per year, announced plans to end the use of plastics in its stores worldwide by 2020.

When Nia Imani Franklin was crowned winner of what The New York Times called the “newer, woker” Miss America on Sept. 9, few vestiges remained of what began as an Atlantic City “bathing beauty” contest. In a makeover led by 1989 pageant winner Gretchen Carlson (who had won a sexual harassment settlement against her former Fox News boss Roger Ailes) the swimsuit contest was eliminated. 

Simon ended the last concert of his last tour with his first Simon & Garfunkel hit, 1965’s “The Sound of Silence.” After an epic, seven-decade Rock & Roll Hall of Fame career, Simon, 77, is retiring from the road because touring “takes a toll that detracts from the joy of playing,” he said in a March statement while announcing the farewell tour.

On Sept. 22, he took his final bow onstage in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York, just a few miles from his childhood home. “It means more than you can know,” he said.

By the end of FX’s Cold War spy thriller The Americans on May 30, truth was uncovered and Soviet spies Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys returned to an uncertain future in their Russian homeland. The show, which debuted in 2013, scored two Emmys and acquired a fervent fan base.

For Russell and Rhys — who met on-set, fell in love and are now real-life partners and parents of son Sam, 2 — it was, Russell told PEOPLE, one “wild, crazy run of a show.”

Take a look back at the most memorable moments of 2018 in PEOPLE’s special edition Yearbook, available on Amazon and on stands now.

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