Puppeteer Caroll Spinney is stepping down from the roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, which he has performed on Sesame Street since its 1969 premiere.

“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney. “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.”

Spinney developed a love of puppetry at an early age. He explored puppeteering throughout his childhood and adolescence, and used money from his performances to pay his college tuition. After serving in the Air Force, he performed as a professional puppeteer in Las Vegas and Boston in the 1950s and 1960s, eventually meeting Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962. He joined Sesame Street’s inaugural season in 1969, and has been performing with the show ever since. Spinney even met his wife of 45 years, Debra, on the Sesame Street set in 1973.

In addition to his puppeteering, Spinney is an accomplished author and visual artist. He co-authored and illustrated his autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird. He holds four honorary doctorates, and is a passionate lecturer. He holds a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, six Emmys, two Gold Records, and two Grammy honors. He is the 2003 recipient of the “Legacy for Children Award,” and The Christopher’s James Keller Award in 2004. His life and career have been documented in the widely-acclaimed 2014 film, I Am Big Bird.

The roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch will be carried on by puppeteers Spinney mentored for more than 20 years. Going forward, the role of Big Bird will be performed by Matt Vogel, Sesame Street’s Puppet Captain and part of its Emmy Award-winning directing team who also performs Count von Count for Sesame Street and Kermit the Frog for the Disney Muppets. Oscar the Grouch will be performed by Eric Jacobson, an Emmy-nominated puppeteer who also performs Grover, Bert, and Guy Smiley for Sesame Street, as well as Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy for the Disney Muppets.

Sesame Street released this tribute video to honor Spinney’s work on the show: