After the untimely passing of Muppet creator Jim Henson in 1990, The Jim Henson Company had some big webbed feet to fill. While most of the puppeteering operations could continue on their own, someone needed to operate and voice Kermit the Frog. Who could possibly carry on the character that Henson is linked to the most?
Enter Steve Whitmire. Whitmire was a huge fan of the Muppets and started to work for The Jim Henson Company in 1978 at the age of 18, according to People. He worked on many of Henson's major projects, including the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
After Jim Henson's passing, Whitmire was personally asked by Henson's wife, Jane, and Jim's brother, Brian, to be Kermit's performer. Whitmire was also given the task to operate and voice Ernie on Sesame Street as well. Whitmire accepted this unfortunate honor.
As the new operator and voice of Kermit, Whitmire became the default ambassador for the Muppets. Whitmire portrayed Kermit in all of the Muppet films since 1990, made numerous talk show appearances as himself or the character, and cameos in television shows such as 30 Rock, The Daily Show, and WWE RAW.
The Muppet fansite Tough Pigs broke the story in early July 2017 that Whitmire was no longer performing as Kermit. The site dug deeper into the story when they noticed that Kermit was noticeably absent from the "Muppet Thought of the Week" YouTube series. It was then believed that Whitmire stepped down from the role.
After it had been reported that Whitmire was no longer performing as Kermit, he wanted to set the record straight. Whitmire wrote a detailed blog post saying that he wasn't retiring from being Kermit, but was fired. He had been told that the role was being recast back in October 2016.
According to reports, the Jim Henson Company and the Henson family saw Whitmire as a headache for years. According to Business Insider, Brian Henson claimed that Whitmire became unreasonable and difficult after being placed into the Kermit role. "Steve would use, 'I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit.' And that is really not OK," said Brian Henson.
When Disney acquired the Muppets in 2004, Whitmire was reportedly more difficult to deal with. He would often butt heads with Disney executives regarding money and puppeteer unions. With the new corporate structure built around the Muppets, Whitmire and Disney would continually clash.
With each project, Whitmire and the powers that be would creatively clash over the Kermit character. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Whitmire was apparently disappointed at the character's direction during the short-lived ABC Muppets show. Whitmire said that he would just give notes to the writers and directors. Disney claimed that Whitmire became demanding and unreasonable.
10. A Huge Shock
After portraying Kermit for over 27 years, it was a shock to Whitmire that he was being replaced. While he admitted to being passionate about the character, he didn't think he was being unprofessional in offering notes and feedback regarding Kermit's character. He seems to blame Disney in creating a rift between him and the Henson family over this issue.
Since the fallout between The Muppet Studios and Whitmire, it had been announced that Muppeteer Matt Vogel would be the new voice of Kermit. Vogel has been a longtime performer for the company. Among other characters, Vogel is known for his portrayal of Big Bird and Count Von Count on Sesame Street.
Casual fans wonder if Matt Vogel can properly fill the role of the face of the Muppet franchise. Fear not! While also being a veteran Muppeteer since 1996, he has portrayed Kermit before... Sort of. Vogel was the voice of the Kermit's criminal lookalike Constantine in 2014's Muppets Most Wanted.
While Whitmire claims that he is suited for the Kermit role given his personal connection to Jim Henson, Brian Henson thinks otherwise. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Henson wished that he let Whitmire go when the Muppets merged with Disney. "I have to say, in hindsight, I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a real problem," said Henson.
14. Cheryl Henson Thought Whitmire's Kermit Was Bitter, Angry, & Depressing
Jim Henson's daughter, Cheryl, put things a bit more bluntly than the rest of her family regarding Whitmire. In a Facebook post, she claimed that Whitmire's Kermit had devolved into a "bitter, angry, depressed victim," a much different personality than her father's portrayal of Kermit as a "good hearted, compassionate leader." Many fans are puzzled, wondering if the Hensons truly were unsatisfied with Whitmire's performance, why wait so long to replace him?
For being a professional puppeteer all of his life, all of a sudden Whitmire finds himself out of a job. While there are fan petitions requesting that he be brought back, it doesn't appear to sway the power brokers at Disney. The story continues to unfold in the press and on Whitmire's blog.