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Kermit the Frog Puppeteer Steve Whitmire Discusses Firing in TV Interview, Says Disney Offered Him ‘Consolation Prizes’

It’s not easy being green. Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire, who was fired from his longtime role last October, spoke out about the situation on the Today show Thursday, July 20.

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The voice actor reiterated that he was completely surprised when he got a phone call from two Disney executives telling him that he was being let go after 27 years. “I was stunned. It seemed like it was about five minutes of silence. It probably wasn’t that long, but I was just trying to get answers,” he said. “I had no advance warning on that. Nothing had ever been framed to me as a career-breaking problem.”

Steve Whitmire
Steve Whitmire

Just months before, he was allegedly told that he was being considered for a producer role. “In fact, we had been talking prior to that — two years before that — about me becoming a creative producer with them, working alongside the two executives who I spoke to, where I would really a part of the day-to-day decision making on The Muppets,” he continued. “I was thrilled about it because I felt like at last after 12 years with Disney, we would be able to integrate this great package that’s The Muppets into a huge corporation, which is what I wanted to do.”

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Whitmire also addressed allegations from Disney and the late Muppets creator Jim Henson’s family about his “repeated unacceptable business conduct” and that he was difficult to work with. “Well, I offered notes. I don’t think that makes someone difficult,” he said on Today. “It was totally an idea of trying to do what’s best for The Muppets in terms of receiving material and ideas and concepts that were well out of the bounds of the character.”

He also discussed accusations that he the thought he was truly Kermit instead of an actor hired to play the part. “In my mind, my mentoring with Jim tells me that the minute the Muppets are reduced to being roles that are auditioned and cast, it takes all of the fun individuality out of them,” he shared. “Their longevity is completely based on their consistency and that’s just super important.”

Muppet Kermit the Frog and his operator Steve Whitmire take questions from the audience at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on November 14, 2003,in New York City.
Muppet Kermit the Frog and his operator Steve Whitmire take questions from the audience at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle on November 14, 2003,in New York City.

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Whitmire added that Disney offered him “consolation prizes” if he would go quietly. “They were going to honor me, give me [the] Disney Legends award, but that required signing an NDA,” he claimed. “And what they really wanted was for me to frame this as I moved on and I retired, and it was just disingenuous and I couldn’t bring myself do it.”

As previously reported, Brian Henson claimed to The Hollywood Reporter that Whitmire was “disrespectful in being outspoken on character issues.” He alleged that Whitmire’s communication with colleagues was “appalling” and that he made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship.” Henson claimed, “Steve would use ‘I am not Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit.’ And that is really not OK.”

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