Whitmire had voiced the iconic amphibian since the death of “Muppets” creator Jim Henson in 1990. The puppeteer had worked on the “Muppets” since 1978 and was a mainstay of various Henson productions for nearly 40 years.
On Monday, The Muppets Studio said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that Whitmire was let go over “unacceptable business conduct.”
“We raised concerns about Steve’s repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback,” a spokesperson for the studio said. “The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support.”
THR also reports that a source close to the studio said Whitmire’s style of communication was “overly hostile and unproductive.” Whitmire told THR that much of the problem had come from his deep commitment to the Muppets legacy, and disagreements over the character during the short-lived “Muppets” ABC series.
“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 said. “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.”
One big disagreement during the run of the canceled TV series was over a story in which Kermit lied to his nephew Robin about his divorce from Miss Piggy. “I don’t think Kermit would lie to him,” Whitmire said. “I think that as Robin came to Kermit, he would say ‘things happen, people go their separate ways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about you.’ Kermit is too compassionate to lie to him to spare his feelings.”
“We have been doing these characters for a long, long time and we know them better than anybody,” Whitmire added. “I thought I was aiding to keep it on track, and I think a big reason why the show was canceled (after one season last fall) was because that didn’t happen. I am not saying my notes would have saved it, but I think had they listened more to all of the performers, it would have made a really big difference.”
In a post on his personal blog last week, Whitmire addressed his departure, writing that he was in fact fired by Disney.
“As I am sure you can imagine, I have experienced every possible emotion since October 2016, when I received a phone call from The Muppets Studio’s executives to say they were recasting,” Whitmire wrote. “Through a new business representative, I have offered multiple remedies to their two stated issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call. I wish that we could have sat down, looked each other in the eye, and discussed what was on their minds before they took such a drastic action.”
Whitmire’s attachment to the Muppets is deep. “For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable, impossible to resist way of life,” he wrote. “I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero.”
Meanwhile, the daughter of the Muppets’ creator, Cheryl Henson, has shared her thoughts on the issue in a reportedly heated Facebook post, where Page Six reports she called Whitmire’s dismissal “long overdue.”
The outlet reports Henson wrote that Whitmore’s “performance of Kermit has strayed far away from my father’s good-hearted, compassionate leader of the Muppets,” adding that “Steve performed Kermit as a bitter, angry depressed victim,” and, in the past few years, has not been “funny or fun.”
Alongside Kermit, Whitmire provided the voices for Rizzo the Rat, lab sidekick Beaker, crotchety critic Statler, as well as “Sesame Street”‘s Ernie (of Bert and Ernie) and more. He’d also portrayed several “Fraggle Rock” characters and appeared in Henson movies “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal”.
A spokesperson for The Muppets Studio confirmed Whitmire’s departure and that Matt Vogel will take over as Kermit the Frog. Vogel will get the frog in his throat starting with next week’s “Muppets Thought of the Week” video, according to Muppets fansite Tough Pigs, who were also the first to report Whitmire’s departure.
Vogel is a longtime Muppets performer, having joined the company in 1996, and has voiced classic characters such as the Count and Floyd Pepper. He also played Constantine, a Kermit impersonator, in “Muppets Most Wanted”.