As far as we know, the Backstreet Boys, unlike Menudo, don't have a mandatory retirement age. So we'll assume the aging boy band's oldest member, 33-year-old Kevin Richardson, really is leaving to pursue "other interests."
A statement announcing Richardson's departure from the group was posted on the BSB Web site Saturday. "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," Richardson said. "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."
Richardson didn't specify what that next chapter would entail, but he did pledge that fellow members Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, Nick Carter and A.J. McLean would always be his "little brothers" and have his "utmost love and support."
The dark-haired singer also thanked the band's fans for "all the beautiful memories we have shared together" and said he hoped they would join him in the next phase of his life.
Cousins Richardson and Littrell, both from Lexington, Kentucky, began singing together as children and later graduated to performing R&B and doo wop styles at local fairs and festivals. Richardson moved to Orlando in the early 1990s and became a tour guide at Disney World, eventually hooking up with McLean, Dorough and Carter to form Backstreet Boys, named after a flea market in Orlando. After inviting Littrell to join the band, they became one of the most popular groups on the scene, helping to launch the boy-band craze of the late '90s and selling more than 30 million albums in the process.
But the group was forced to take a break in 2001 when McLean entered rehab to deal with addiction problems (see "Backstreet Boys Postpone Tour As A.J. McLean Seeks Treatment"). Richardson spent some of the ensuing three-year hiatus performing in the musical "Chicago" on Broadway. The band returned in 2005 with the release of their tepidly received Never Gone album (see "Backstreet Men? The Boys Grow Up On First Album In Five Years ").
The rest of the group said they had no plans to replace Richardson.
"Earlier this year, after much soul searching, Kevin Richardson came to us and told us that he had decided to leave the group and pursue other interests. He gave his blessing to continue the music without him," read a statement from the group, who are about to enter the studio to work on a new album that they hope to release later this year. "We have no intention of replacing Kevin, and 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.
The group's Jive Records publicist did not return calls for comment at press time.