'Dancing with the Stars' head judge Len Goodman announces his retirement: 'Hasta la vista baby!'

Eric McCandless/ABC Len Goodman

Len Goodman is bidding farewell to Dancing with the Stars.

The 78-year-old is officially retiring from his role as head judge on the Disney+ dance competition series, PEOPLE can exclusively confirm. Goodman also shared the news during Monday’s episode of DWTS, during which he received a standing ovation from the crowd.

“Doing a live show you have to be at the top of your game and quick to react. And as one gets older, then things start to get more challenging,” he tells PEOPLE. “I haven’t fallen asleep or started dribbling yet on the show, so I thought it’s best to go before I start to do so!”

“I will miss the California sunshine, working with my fellow judges and the camaraderie with everyone on the show,” he adds. “I’ll miss seeing the celebrities developing into dancers and I will miss being part of one of the most successful shows on TV.”

Goodman, a professional ballroom dancer from England, first joined DWTS as head judge during the show’s first season in 2005. He was joined by Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, who have continued to serve on the judges’ panel for all 31 seasons.

Adam Taylor/ABC via Getty Len Goodman on DWTS

At the time of the show’s inception, Goodman was working as the head judge on Strictly Come Dancing, a British version of DWTS. Since that show was already doing well, Goodman remembers thinking DWTS would also be a hit, but not everyone was on board with the idea.

“I always had a feeling it would be a hit as whatever was popular in Britain on TV at the time is normally good here and vice versa, and Strictly Come Dancing was already very big,” he says. “However, the majority of Americans were convinced that nobody would be interested in watching ballroom dancing and that it would be a flop. How wrong they were!”

DWTS ultimately became a hit, airing on ABC for 30 seasons, before recently transitioning to Disney+ for season 31. Goodman served as a judge for the first 20 seasons before taking a break for season 21. He returned to judge for seasons 22-28, before taking a break once more in season 29. He then returned for season 30 until his retirement.

Meanwhile, Inaba and Tonioli have served as judges for all 31 seasons. The trio has since been joined by Derek Hough, and his sister Julianne Hough also served as a judge for several seasons.

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Throughout the years, there have been countless memorable moments — but Goodman has a few that stand out among the rest.

“George Hamilton doing the Paso Doble as Zorro, the Gay Blade, and Jerry Springer hoping to stay in long enough so he could learn to waltz and dance it at his daughter’s wedding spring to mind in a flash when I think back,” he shares. “The time also when I danced ‘the twist’ with Chubby Checker, live on the show. That was fantastic, as he was my rock and roll hero.”

“When I got to dance the Viennese Waltz — albeit briefly — with Derek Hough’s celebrity partner, Nastia Liukin,” he continues. “Dancing to a song sung live in the studio by Leela James [“Fall For You”] brought back such happy memories of my dancing past.”

“Meeting some of the great artists that have been singing on the show such Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Rod Stewart, Gladys Knight, to name a few… and meeting some of my sporting heroes, who either competed on the show or were watching in the audience, from the world of baseball, football, boxing, skiing, race car driving, and ice skating,” he adds. “I had so much fun recording ‘Dance Center’ for a few years with Kenny Mayne and Jerry Rice. It always took twice as long as it should have done to record because we kept laughing so much!”

ABC/Eric McCandless Len Goodman on DWTS with Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli

As for which contestants have impressed him most?

“I have always, along with probably all the viewers over the years, been impressed and inspired by those who have had to overcome their physical disabilities in order to dance. Amy Purdy, JR Martinez to name just a couple — but there have been countless others,” he explains. “American footballers have always impressed me too as to how good they are — it’s a mystery given the size of them. Whereas boxers who are light on their feet and very agile, have historically been quite poor dancers in comparison.”

But it’s the professional dancers that he believes are “the unsung heroes” of the series. “They have impressed me year in and year out with their hard work and dedication to their craft. How they have managed to pull off taking a non-dancer and turning them into something that is show-worthy is beyond me. They certainly all get a ’10 from Len!'” he says.

While he’s judged dozens of celebrities across the board, Goodman notes there is one person he wishes he could’ve seen compete on the show: “Simon Cowell because we the judges could have given him a dose of his own medicine! Or Donald Trump, as I would love to see him in Lycra.”

Reflecting on the future of the series, Goodman says he’s unsure who will step into his role — but is confident that only good things are to come.

“[Who takes over as head judge] is not for me to decide, but any of the other current judges would make an excellent head judge and who knows — maybe a 4th judge will be employed to replace me,” he says. “I hope the show goes from strength to strength and that the flexibility of watching DWTS on Disney+ will enable the show to widen its audience.”

Eric McCandless/ABC Len Goodman on Dancing with the Stars

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Looking ahead, Goodman says he is excited to enjoy some family time and revisit memories from DWTS‘ past.

“Retirement looks like more time to be with family and friends and enjoy the grandchildren whilst they are still young and don’t answer me back!” he jokes. “Over the 31 seasons, there has been some fantastic dancing, and part of my retirement will be to dig out the DVDs that I have been fortunate to receive over the years and relive the memories of the past outstanding performances — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Ultimately, he’s just grateful for the experience — and wants others to know that, as well.

“I’m sure there are plenty of people who are happy that I am leaving but hopefully there will be some that are sad too,” he says. “I have had a wonderful run of good fortune and cannot thank everyone enough who assisted me along the way. A big shout out to hair, make-up, wardrobe, and the whole crew who all played their part in making Dancing With Stars a huge success — it truly has been a wonderful experience to be part of. Hasta la vista baby!”

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Dancing with the Stars airs live on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on Disney+.

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