Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who voiced Muppet Kermit the Frog for 27 years, is giving more details about why he was fired from the position he had held since 1990.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Whitmire said he was let go by Disney in October. He said that he was told he would be “honored for his contributions” to the Muppets.
“The first issue was that they felt I had been ‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series,” Whitmire told THR. “I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney (in 2004), but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions. At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know the Muppets.”
Whitmire said the second issue was tied to a union issue.
“The second issue was framed as ‘refusing to work on a particular project’ some 15 months earlier. I happened to get caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations which occurred while I was in-flight to work on the project and the associated commercial,” Whitmire said. “I did in fact shoot the commercial, but was unable to shoot the material for the project in order to comply with my obligations to the guild. Ironically in that situation, my rep had negotiated a special deal with the guild so that we could do the work within the budget parameters for the project.”
A spokesperson for the Muppets Studio said that Whitmire’s “unacceptable business conduct” over the years was to blame for his exit.
“The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously,” a spokesperson for The Muppets Studio said in a statement to THR. “We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support.”
Whitmire was chosen by Jim Henson’s son, Brian, to be the voice of Kermit after Henson’s death in 1990.
Matt Vogel was announced as replacement for Whitmire.
“I’m actually responsible for Matt having become a part of the Disney Muppets,” Whitmire said. “The performers are my brothers, my family of choice. That includes Matt, and the hardest part of this is knowing we probably will never work together again. He’s very talented with the Muppets; he is already performing and he was chosen by Jerry Nelson prior to his death to carry Jerry’s characters forward.”
Nelson, who voiced a number of Muppets characters, including Count von Count, died in 2012.
Whitmire said that he will move on to other projects.
Vogel will make his debut as Kermit in a “Muppet Thought of the Week” web video this week, according to a Muppets Studio spokeswoman.