How Did Sesame Street’s Northern Calloway Die?

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The 50th anniversary of Sesame Street was celebrated with the ABC documentary Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days.  The TV special looked back at the legacy of the iconic children’s television program, which made its debut in November 1969 and continues to air to this day.

Sesame Street introduced a rotating cast of characters to viewers over the past five decades. But sadly, several of them did not live to see the show’s 50-year milestone, including a memorable actor featured on the early seasons of the show who died just a year after leaving Sesame Street.

The beloved early Sesame Street character was played by late actor Northern Calloway. Starting in the show’s fourth season in 1973, Calloway played David Robinson, the original boyfriend of Maria (Sonia Manzano) and, later, the shopkeeper at Hooper’s Store after the real-life death of Mr. Hooper actor, Will Lee, in 1982.

Calloway helmed the role of David for 16 seasons and appeared in several Sesame Workshop specials including the 1978 TV special, Christmas Eve on Sesame Street,  per IMDB. In addition to playing David, Calloway voiced Muppet character Baby Breeze as well as Same Sound Brown on Sesame Street.

Northern Calloway Passed Away in 1990, Less Than One Year After His Final ‘Sesame Street’ Episode

Calloway’s final Sesame Street episode was in 1989, where viewers were told his character was leaving the sunny street to move to Florida with his grandmother. The actor’s obituary published in The Buffalo News revealed that he died in early 1990, less than a year after retiring from the children’s show due to medical reasons. Calloway was just 41 years old when he died.

According to the New York Times, on January 9, 1990, Calloway lost consciousness shortly after being taken to the Stony Lodge psychiatric hospital, in Ossining, New York. The actor was rushed to nearby Phelps Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

While it has been widely reported that Calloway was battling  stomach cancer at the time of his death (per The Grunge and other outlets), according to IMDB, Calloway’s cause of death was “exhaustive psychosis.” Calloway is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, per Find a Grave.

Calloway Reportedly Had a History of Mental Illness

In the book Street Gang: The Complete Oral History of Sesame Street it was stated that Calloway suffered from mental illness and bipolar disorder and that his behavioral issues also affected his career on Sesame Street.

The book’s author noted that Calloway once bit a music coordinator during a fight on the Sesame Street set. The actor also did not appear in the 1985 big screen movie Follow That Bird, and was the only main cast member at the time not to do so, according to IMDB.

At the time of filming for Follow That Bird, Calloway was banned from entering Canada, where the movie was being filmed, due to his involvement in a shocking criminal incident in Nashville in 1980. Calloway reportedly went on a violent, naked rampage during which he damaged property and assaulted a woman with an iron, per the Arizona Daily Star.  The actor sought treatment following the incident and was able to return to work on Sesame Street for nine more years.

In addition to its airing on ABC, Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days will be available to stream on Hulu.

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