The man who took over voicing Kermit the Frog after the 1990 death of Jim Henson has been fired, and the reason why depends on who’s telling the story.
Steve Whitmire, Kermit’s voice of 27 years, was let go last October (though the news was only made public last week). In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Whitmire claims a union disagreement (a “dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations”) and notes that he made during the most recent short-lived attempt to modernize the Muppets—ABC’s The Muppets, which ran for a single season 2015-16—led to his departure.
Whitmire, who was asked to take over Kermit by Henson’s family after the creator’s untimely death in 1990, said that an instance of a note was over a script for the new ABC series, canceled last year, in which Kermit lied to his nephew, Robin, about his breakup with Miss Piggy.
“I don’t think Kermit would lie to him,” Whitmire explained. “I think that is 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.”
He continued, “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.”
Meanwhile an unnamed source “close to” Disney/the Muppets Studio called Whitmire’s communication style “overly hostile and unproductive.” According to this side, his firing was a culmination of years’ worth of bad behavior. A spokesperson for the Muppets Studio gave THR this statement regarding Whitmire’s firing:
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. 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.
“Saying goodbye, why is it sad? / Makes us remember the good times we’ve had,” the Muppets once posited. Well sure, but also because of disagreements over character motivation, alleged hostility and a lack of productivity, the failure to address feedback, union shit, etc. etc. That song is begging for an update.