UPDATED with Muppets Studio statement: Steve Whitmire, the longtime Kermit the Frog puppeteer recently fired by Disney’s Muppets Studio, says he is “devastated” and was denied the opportunity for a face-to-face discussion over the studio’s “drastic action.”
In his first-ever blog post, Whitmire writes that the Muppets job was his “life’s work” and that he’s “at the top” of his game. Dismissing any suggestion that he left voluntarily, Whitmire writes, “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 had worked for the Muppets since 1978 and been the Kermit puppeteer since 1990. Earlier this month, the Muppets Studio confirmed — but did not explain — that Whitmire is being replaced by Matt Vogel, who previously performed as Kermit imitator Constantine in Muppets Most Wanted.
According to Whitmire, he was first informed about the recasting in October, when studio executives phoned with the news. He says the Muppets Studio had two “issues” — which he did not identify — and that he has offered “multiple remedies,” to no avail.
Deadline has requested clarification from Whitmire about the reasons for his firing.
A spokesperson for the Muppets Studio said in a statement: “The Muppets Studio thanks Steve for his tremendous contributions to Kermit the Frog and The Muppets franchise. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”
In his blog post, Whitmire writes: “As I am sure you can imagine, I have experienced every possible emotion since October 2016, when I received a phone call from The Muppets Studio’s executives to say they were recasting. Through a new business representative, I have offered multiple remedies to their two stated issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call. I wish that we could have sat down, looked each other in the eye, and discussed what was on their minds before they took such a drastic action.”
The puppeteer says he didn’t speak out about the axing earlier in the hope that the studio would change its plan.
“I have remained silent the last nine months in hopes that the Disney company might reverse their course,” the post adds. “Doing what is best for the Muppets is the lens through which all my interactions have been filtered. Given the opportunity I remain willing to do whatever is required to remedy their concerns because I feel my continued involvement with the characters is in the best interest of the Muppets.”
Whitmire also recaps his history as a Muppeteer: “In 1978 when I was asked to join The Muppet Show, the Muppets were the hottest thing on the planet. I was invited to sit at the feet of the true masters, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Dave Goelz; working alongside them, absorbing different skills from each, as we, along with many talented others, contributed towards the same shared vision, the vision of one man. The result became a skill-set for myself that was sort of a compilation of the best of them all.”
He ends his post with a reference to Henson.
“I just want you all to know that I am sorry if I have disappointed any of you at any point throughout our journey, and to let everyone know that I am devastated to have failed in my duty to my hero.”