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Kermit the Frog Puppeteer: My Firing ‘Was Exactly the Same Feeling’ as Hearing Jim Henson Died

Former Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire opened up to CNN about being ousted from the role after dedicating 27 years of his life to the character. 

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The voice actor, 57, was named as Jim Henson’s successor after The Muppets creator and original Kermit puppeteer’s untimely death in 1990. “It was really scary and obviously an incredible honor,” Whitmire said of taking over the job. “To try to step into a character — Jim had done Kermit for 35 years — and to try to step into that character was just an awesome responsibility.” 

Steve Whitmire and Kermit the Frog
Steve Whitmire and Kermit the Frog

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When he got a phone call from two Disney executives last October telling him that he was fired, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “It was absolute shock,” he said. “It was exactly the same feeling as the moment I was told Jim had died. It was the worst thing that could happen to this character. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to me — although it’s pretty bad.”

Steve Whitmire and Kermit the Frog
Steve Whitmire

Earlier this month, Whitmire first spoke out about parting ways with The Muppets in an emotional blog post, saying he was blindsided. However, Debbie McClellan, head of the Muppets Studio division of Disney, said in a statement that Whitmire was let go for “repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback.” Henson’s son Brian Henson backed up Disney’s story, claiming to The Hollywood Reporter that the puppeteer was “disrespectful in being outspoken on character issues” and that his communication was colleagues was “appalling.”

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Whitmire once again defended himself against the allegations to CNN. “Most of these things have no basis in truth, and I don’t want to get into a war of words with the Hensons when the real issue is between Disney and I,” he said. “If anything had been framed to me as ‘your career is on the line’ over any particular event, I would have paid attention.”

The role of Kermit has now been handed over to longtime Muppets performer Matt Vogel. “I think there are people who will notice. I think Disney knows that the vast majority of people probably won’t,” Whitmire said. “I think if it jumps around on the screen and it’s green and it says the right catchphrases, unfortunately people are going to see it as Kermit.”

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