- Lawrence Lucier / Stringer
After Jim Henson’s death in 1990, Steve Whitmire became the sole voice and puppeteer of Kermit the Frog, everyone’s favorite banjo-playing amphibian.
So when the news dropped earlier this month that Whitmire would resign as the voice of Kermit, after 27 years, Muppet fans were shocked.
To much of the public, the recasting of Kermit seemed to come out of nowhere, but according to many who worked with Whitmire, his recasting was long overdue.
Here is everything you need to know about this summer’s most perplexing scandal:
A fan site broke the news that Kermit was out.
The Muppet fan site, ToughPigs, was first to report that Whitmire was leaving The Muppets on July 10. It revealed that Matt Vogel, a fellow Muppet performer, would be taking Whitmire’s place as the voice of Kermit.
ToughPigs didn’t provide many details as to why Whitmire was leaving, but noted in its report that Whitmire had been absent from The Muppet’s short weekly “Muppet Thought of the Week” YouTube series well before his departure.
The “Muppet Thought of the Week” series began in February 2017, and Kermit had not made a single appearance on it.
Whitmire publicly announced that he didn’t resign. Disney fired him.
- Lawrence Lucier / Stringer
Whitmire published an emotional blog post (his first ever) on July 11, the day after the news of his recasting broke. Whitmire explained in his post that he had not quit The Muppets, but had been fired by Disney.
Whitmire described how distraught and confused he felt by Disney’s decision to replace him. Whitmire explained in his post that he would never consider ‘abandoning Kermit.’
“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. This is my life’s work since I was 19 years old. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and 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.”
Whitmire continues to explain in his post that he waited nine months to discuss his firing publicly, in the hopes that Disney would change its mind. This confirmed ToughPig’s suspicions that the actor had indeed not been performing with The Muppets long before the news of his departure became public.
Muppets fans responded to Whitmire’s post with an overwhelming outpouring of love and support, thanking Whitmire for his years of service voicing Kermit.
The Muppet Studio revealed that Whitmire was fired for ‘unacceptable business conduct.’
To the public, it seemed like Whitmire had been wronged by Disney – unfairly let go, and unfairly pushed out of the company he had given so much to.
Then The Muppet Studio (now owned by Disney) released a statement of its own on Monday.
The Muppet Studio’s statement said that Whitmire’s firing was years in the making, and that the decision to recast him came after consultations with the Henson family, along with many talks with Whitmire himself, in which Disney attempted to address his “unacceptable business conduct.”
Here’s the thrust of it:
“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, who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter, responded to accusations that he had conducted himself unacceptably, and said he felt Disney’s primary motivation for firing him had more to do with character notes that he gave while ABC’s “The Muppets” show was in production.
Whitmire’s biggest character note for “The Muppets” was this: Kermit isn’t a liar.
Disney pushed a plotline on “The Muppets” where Kermit lies to his cousin Robin about his breakup with Miss Piggy, and Whitmire wasn’t a fan. This became a contentious issue between the puppeteer and Disney, according to Whitmire. Whitmire even went so far as to insinuate that Disney’s dismissal of his character notes as one of the reasons why the show was cancelled after its first (and final) season last fall.
Here’s what he said when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter:
“We have been doing these characters for a long, long time and we know them better than anybody. 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.”
Brian Henson admitted that he should have fired Whitmire 13 years ago.
- Astrid Stawiarz / Stringer
Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday in an attempt to elucidate why the decision was made to recast Kermit.
Henson said that he wished he had replaced Whitmire before selling The Muppets to Disney in 2004, and feels guilty for not doing so prior to the sale. “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,” he said.
“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,” Henson said, expanding on what made Whitmire so difficult to work with.
Cheryl Henson said that Kermit ‘recasting is long over due’ in Facebook post.
- D Dipasupil / Stringer
Jim Henson’s daughter, Cheryl Henson (the sister of Brian), also weighed in on Whitmire’s recasting in a Facebook post Tuesday.
She mirrored her brother’s remarks regarding Whitmire:
“Steves (sic) version of history is ridiculously self serving. My father never asked him to perform Kermit, my brother Brian did. Steve’s performance as Kermit has strayed far away from my father’s good hearted, compassionate leader of the Muppets. Steve performed Kermit as a bitter, angry, depressed victim. Worst of all, in the last few years he had not been not funny or fun. Recasting Kermit is long over due. Stop with the pity party! Let’s get back to the true spirit of Jim Henson’s Kermit!”
Shortly after Cheryl shared her feelings about Whitmire, Whitmire responded to Cheryl’s Facebook post on his blog. Whitmire asked that Henson not be judged for the harsh statements she made about the him, and said he hoped she eventually gains clarity as to why he was so outspoken about “character issues.” He cited the notes he gave on “The Muppets” as the reason for his ‘termination’ once more.
“Don’t judge her emotional posts too harshly. I hope all of you and Cheryl, too, can understand that being outspoken about these very character issues to the top creative executives on the ABC series is at the core of the number one issue stated to me for my termination by The Muppets Studios.”
Disney and the Henson family have yet to respond to Whitmire’s latest post.