(NBC News) — Caroll Spinney is hanging up his big yellow bird suit.
After playing the iconic Big Bird on “Sesame Street” for nearly 50 years, the 84-year-old puppeteer announced on Wednesday that he is retiring from the show at the end of this week.
“Before I came to “Sesame Street,” I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important,” Spinney said in a statement released by Sesame Workshop . “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.”
Spinney, who also played Oscar the Grouch, began his celebrated run on the children’s television show in 1969 when he was hand-picked by legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson.
Caroll met his wife of 45 years, Debra, in 1973 on “Sesame Street” when she was working for Children’s Television Workshop.
In 2015, Spinney stopped puppeteering due to the physical requirements, but continued doing the voices for Big Bird and Oscar, The New York Times reported.
Sesame Workshop announced that Big Bird will now be played by Matt Vogel, who has been Spinney’s apprentice since 1996.
Throughout his run as one of television’s most recognizable characters, Spinney felt that Big Bird’s personality reflected a part of himself.
“I was one of those kind of kids who wanted to do the right thing, so that’s what Big Bird is always trying to be is trying to be a good kid,” he told Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY in 2015. “It’s so fun to play something that you know when children see him, they melt in just the right way.”
Big Bird was originally supposed to be an adult character until Spinney suggested a change.
“He wasn’t a child,” Spinney told Hager. “Some script came along and I said, ‘You know, I think the way this could be played is Big Bird is a kid.”’
He has been recognized for his work with six Emmy Awards and well as two Grammy Awards. He also was presented with the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.