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"NCIS" star Michael Weatherly leaving after 13 years

Michael Weatherly, right, and guest star Robert Wagner on the 250th episode of "NCIS."

CBS

LOS ANGELES - "NCIS" star Michael Weatherly says he's leaving the long-running CBS drama.

Weatherly, who plays Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, has been with "NCIS" since it debuted in 2003.

In postings on his Twitter account Tuesday, Weatherly thanked the show's fans worldwide and said "NCIS" was a "fantastic ride." He called DiNozzo a wonderful character, one who was fun to play.

In a statement, CBS said Weatherly will leave "NCIS" at the end of this season. The network said it looked forward to working with Weatherly as part of its ongoing development deal with him.

Mark Harmon stars in the top-rated drama about Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents in Washington. The show is part of a popular franchise for CBS, with other "NCIS" series set in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

In a 2010 interview with CBS News, Weatherly equated his character's importance to Rob Reiner's role on the TV classic "All in the Family," saying, "Meathead comes down the stairs. You don't want him to become more politically centralized. He has to be the lefty so that Archie can be the (righty)."

He joked that his character is as essential.

He said, "Those are the rules of television."