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'Sesame Street' actress will leave the show after more than 40 years

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(Read caption) 'Sesame Street' airs on PBS.

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Actress Sonia Manzano, known to generations of children as “Sesame Street” personality Maria, is reportedly retiring. 

According to the Washington Post, Manzano is leaving the show and will not appear on the upcoming season of the long-running children’s program. 

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She appeared on “Sesame” for 44 years, beginning in 1971, and also served as a writer on the show. According to her official website, Manzano also wrote for the children’s show “Little Bill,” which aired on the children’s TV block Nick Jr. on Nickelodeon.

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Manzano, whose parents are from Puerto Rico, recalled in an interview with CBS News how she felt how she wasn’t represented on TV prior to acting on “Sesame.”

“I'm Puerto Rican, born in New York, watched a lot of television in the fifties, never saw anybody who looked like me on television,” she said. “If you're not reflected in society, you feel invisible. And I wondered, how was I going to contribute to a society that didn't see me?” “Sesame” was heralded for its diverse cast, which included Manzano’s onscreen husband, portrayed by Emilio Delgado, and actors Loretta Long and Matt Robinson.

“Sesame Street,” which debuted in 1969 and airs on PBS, has become a TV classic and its Muppet characters, including Big Bird, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo, who has gotten his own spin-off programs, have become icons recognized worldwide.

As noted by the History Channel, the program was originally targeted at underprivileged kids so they could be on an even keel with their peers when they reached kindergarten. The show has since been on TV in more than 120 countries and is still producing new episodes every year. A recent study by Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Wellesley College’s Phillip Levine discovered that watching the show can have as much value for children in some ways as attending preschool. 

In addition, for a show that’s been on the air since 1969, the program is far from behind the times. Parents have been no doubt delighted to see such recent parodies on “Sesame” as skits poking fun at “House of Cards,” “Law & Order: SVU,” and “Game of Thrones.”