Why Was Kermit the Frog’s Puppeteer Fired? There Are Multiple Stories
The Muppets are more than cute little puppets. The relationship viewers have with Jim Henson’s characters is more akin to the bond between family members than viewer and artist. I’ve seen it with my daughter. Elmo isn’t just a furry little monster she likes watching; he’s her dear friend and protector. So when one of the men or women who portrays those Muppets leaves, it’s a huge deal. People are understandably curious when they learn that the guy who has played Kermit the Frog since Henson’s death 27 years ago was suddenly fired. After all these years, what happened?
There are two sides to the story. The former Kermiteer, Steve Whitmire, who was the Henson family’s pick to replace his creator all the way back in1990, gave his version to The Hollywood Reporter, explaining that he received two different reasons for his dismissal:
Whitmire explained that he was let go by Disney in October. He was given two reasons: unwanted notes during the short-lived Muppets reboot on ABC and a union disagreement. News of his termination has since come to light after months of being told he was going to be ‘honored for his contributions’ to the Muppets and the hope of working out issues with Disney brass.
SPOILER ALERT: That did not happen.
Disney’s official statement on the matter offers a different perspective:
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.
Whitmire claimed he was “baffled” by the whole thing, and added that he was never given any kind of “ultimatum at the time the issue occurred” to fix his behavior. He was just fired.
Kermit will now be played by Matt Vogel, a longtime Sesame Street cast member and understudy for Caroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird. (You can see Vogel talking about the role and the Muppets in the documentary I Am Big Bird, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.) His first performance will supposedly be released this week, so we’ll all be able to judge how he does in the role compared to Whitmire and Henson, and to see whether it changes that intense relationship with one of the most beloved characters in all of pop culture.