Caroll Spinney, Sesame Street's Original Big Bird, Retiring After 49 Years

One of Sesame Street‘s most familiar faces is leaving the neighborhood.

Puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show’s premiere in 1969, announced Wednesday that he is stepping down from both iconic roles.

Spinney released the following statement about his decision to retire:

Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul. And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we’re a family! But now it’s time for two performers that I have worked with and respected — and actually hand-picked for the guardianship of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch — to take my alter-egos into their hands and continue to give them life. Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important. Big Bird helped me find my purpose. Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while! They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling — and my wonderful wife! — and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”

Moving forward, Big Bird and Oscar will be respectively played by puppeteers Matt Vogel and Eric Jacobson, both of whom Spinney has mentored for more than 20 years. Vogel also fills the role of Count von Count on Sesame Street, while Jacobson currently plays Grover, Bert and Guy Smiley on the series.

“Caroll has been one of the leading lights of Sesame Street from the very beginning,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Sesame Workshop. “His genius and his talent made Big Bird the most beloved yellow-feathered friend across the globe. But the sheer artistry of Caroll is that he also brought Oscar to life and made him the most lovable Grouch in the world.”

Following Spinney’s announcement, Sesame Street released a video paying tribute to his legacy, which you can watch in full above.

Will you miss Spinney as Big Bird and Oscar? Tell us in the comments below.