Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Michael Eisner will retire inSeptember 2006, when his contract expires, the company said on Friday.

"Until then I shall continue to exert every effort tohelp the company achieve our goals, to assist the Board in selecting the newChief Executive Officer, and to make the transition expeditious, efficient, andsmooth and easy," Eisner said in a letter to the Disney board.

The decision signals the end of the 62-year-old Eisner'stwo-decade reign at the helm of Disney.

It also comes six months after Eisner, who became chiefexecutive in 1984, narrowly survived a tumultuous battle led by dissidentshareholders Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, a nephew of founder Walt Disney, tooust him from Disney leadership. Eisner was stripped of his role as Disneychairman. News of his departure also comes as uncertainty hangs over the futuredirection of its Miramax subsidiary.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal today, Eisnersaid Disney's recent crises played no role in his decision to step down.

He said the decision was "not asked for, not motivatedby current circumstances at all," adding that with Disney on an upswing,"this was the time to give the board two years notice, so that there willbe a comfortable period of succession."

In an interview published on Sunday in the Los AngelesTimes, Eisner said Disney President Robert Iger was his "preferredchoice" to succeed him.

The CEO search, to be led by Chairman George Mitchell, islikely to include many candidates, the Journal said, citing unnamed peopleclose to the company.

It said these might include such former Disney executives aseBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, Gap Inc. CEO Paul Pressler, News Corp. ChiefOperating Officer Peter Chernin, and Jeff Bewkes, who chairs Time Warner Inc.'sentertainment and networks group.