With a little help from former Cleveland resident Bob Hope, Big Bird went international in 1979. The United States and People’s Republic of China began recognizing each other as countries and started diplomatic relations on Dec. 15, 1978, allowing Hope to hop on a plane and head to China to film Bob Hope on the Road to China. The three-hour TV special was broadcast on NBC on Sept. 16, 1979.
Joining Hope and Big Bird overseas were country music star Crystal Gayle, mimes Shields and Yarnell and R&B singers Peaches and Herb. After opening the show with a musical performance on China’s Great Wall, Hope delivered a stand-up routine to a packed crowd at the Capital Theater in what was then-Peking — now Beijing — where he was introduced by then-U.S. ambassador to China Leonard Woodcock. After that, Hope traveled throughout China where he met a 7-foot-5- inch basketball player with Big Bird before traveling alone to play pingpong against school children and watch a giant panda perform with the Shanghai circus, among other things.
Four years later, Big Bird took a solo trip to China for an NBC special, aptly titled Big Bird In China. After the filming of the special, Hope continued to appear in television specials and USO shows until he retired from public life in 1997.