ORLANDO, Fla. — Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life for five decades on Sesame Street, is stepping away.

  • Caroll Spinney will perform his last show this week
  • Spinney has been with Sesame Street since 1969
  • Matt Vogel will take over Big Bird

"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," Spinney said in a statement released by the show Wednesday.

Puppeteers Matt Vogel, who has played Big Bird before, as well as Kermit the Frog, Count von Count, and others, will take over the role of the giant yellow, childlike bird.

Puppeteer Eric Jacobson will also take on Oscar the Ground. He's played several popular Muppets in recent years, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Grover.

Caroll Spinney began his puppetry career in the 1950s after serving in the Air Force. He met Muppets/Sesame Street creator Jim Henson at a festival in 1962.

Henson cast Spinney for Sesame Street's inaugural season in 1969, and he's been with the show ever since.

Big Bird is a cultural icon, and the role has taken Spinney all over the world. In 2000 the Library of Congress named Big Bird (and by extension, Spinney) a "Living Legend," program that recognized people for their creative contributions to American life. The Library retired the program this year.

"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 will perform his last episode this week, as part of Sesame Street's 50th anniversary season.