Kevin Richardson Leaving Backstreet Boys

06/26/2006 at 07:55 AM EDT

Kevin Richardson Leaving Backstreet Boys
From left, Kevin Richardson (now on leave), AJ McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough and Brian Littrell
©Alberto Tamargo/JPI
The Backstreet Boys are bidding farewell to the oldest member of their band, according to a statement by Kevin Richardson posted on the group's Web site.

"After 13 years of what can only be described as a dream come true, I have decided that it is time to leave the Backstreet Boys. It was a very tough decision for me but one that was necessary in order to move on with the next chapter of my life," said Richardson, 34, adding that he's leaving to pursue other interests.

He went on to say: "I would like to thank the Backstreet fans for all the beautiful memories we have shared together and look forward to including you in the next phase of my life. I wish my brothers continued success and look forward to their new album."

The remaining members – A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, and Brian Littrell – said they had no plans to replace Richardson. "The door will always be open for him to return to the Backstreet Boys. We wish him the all the best in his future endeavors," they said on the band's Web site.

The clean-cut boys' band ushered in a new teen-music craze in the late 90's, buoyed by their soulful harmonies, synchronized dance steps and youthful good looks and charm. Their three albums sold a total of more than 35 million copies.

The group took a hiatus in 2001 after McLean's highly publicized entry into rehab forced the band to postpone their "Black & Blue" tour. They reunited to release the album Never Gone in 2005.

The group plans to return to the studio this weekend to begin work on their next album, which is due later this year, reports the Associated Press.

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