By Megan McCluskey
October 17, 2018

Caroll Spinney, the original puppeteer behind iconic Sesame Street muppets Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, is stepping down after nearly 50 years.

Spinney, who has played both Big Bird and Oscar since the show’s 1969 premiere, announced his retirement in a statement that Sesame Street shared on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important,” the 84-year-old said. “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 created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.

Spinney also shared that he personally selected his replacements for the two roles, Sesame Street Puppet Captain Matt Vogel—who took over Kermit the Frog from puppeteer Steve Whitmire—and veteran puppeteer Eric Jacobson—who already voices Grover, Bert, and Guy Smiley on Sesame Street and Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear from the Muppets.

“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,” he said.

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.

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