He is the green amphibian that people worldwide have grown up knowing, the frog with kind, somber, eyes and a sense of humor that is somehow so relatable.
Kermit the Frog really needs no introduction.
But the man behind his nasally voice does. He’s Steve Whitmire, who took over the role when Kermit’s creator, Jim Henson died unexpectedly in 1990.
More accurately, Kermit was Steve Whitmire. He’s been fired.
The puppeteer the world has known as the voice of Kermit for nearly three decades is being replaced. And according to Whitmire, that “drastic action” was not his decision.
“I am devastated to have failed in my duty to my hero,” Whitmire, 57, wrote in a blog post this week.
Whitmire said that he received a phone call from Muppets Studio executives in October of last year letting him know they were recasting. He suggested “multiple remedies to their two stated issues,” Whitmire said, “which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call.”
“I have remained silent the last nine months in hopes that the Disney company might reverse their course,” Whitmire said. “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.”
This week, news broke that Muppets Studio would be casting Muppets performer Matt Vogel, of Kansas City, Kansas, as Kermit. His first official appearance as the famous frog will be next week in a “Muppets Thought of the Week” video.
Muppets Studio said in a statement to Time magazine that it “thanks Steve for his tremendous contributions to Kermit the Frog and the Muppets franchise. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Muppets fan blog Tough Pigs first reported and confirmed the news after viewers noticed that characters voiced by Whitmire appeared to be missing from recent Muppets videos. Muppets Studios did not explain the reason behind its decision to replace Whitmire.
Since Whitmire learned he would be phased out, he has experienced “every possible emotion,” he said.
“I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that 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,” he said.
Whitmire said he created his blog “as a place to connect and share on all things Muppet, past present and future,” he said. It was a rare, honest expression from a puppeteer whose identity in the public eye was so closely connected with Kermit’s.
For Whitmire, the Muppets “are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. They are a calling, an urgent, undeniable, impossible to resist way of life,” he said.
Indeed, Whitmire’s role as Kermit has been his “life’s work” since he was 19.
Whitmire was in his Atlanta home during the summer of 1990 when a package arrived in the mail.
Inside the package was the “empty, lifeless form” of the familiar green frog his friend and colleague, Henson, had constructed decades earlier, according to a Longreads profile on Whitmire. Henson’s son Brian, then-interim company president, mailed Whitmire the puppet as a way of asking him if he could take on the role.
He would become the character at a difficult time when fans had only previously known one other Kermit, Henson. In a 1977 interview with The Washington Post, Henson said Kermit was the only puppet “who can’t be worked by anybody else, only by me.”
When Whitmire received the package in the mail, he shoved it in a cupboard and did not look at it for weeks, according to the Longreads story. But eventually, he decided to take on the role and the task of carrying out Henson’s “vision,” as he said in his blog post.
Since November 1990, Whitmire has performed not only as Kermit but also as Ernie and dozens of other Muppet characters.
Speaking as Kermit in an Australian interview in 1996, Whitmire was asked what it was like to work without Henson.
“It’s different,” Kermit, voiced by Whitmire, said. “He was a good friend for many, many years and we miss him very much. We all realize he would have wanted us to keep going and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“And how about Steve Whitmire?” the interviewer asked. “I believe you have a close working relationship?”
“I have no idea who that guy is,” the frog replied. “He’s some guy who keeps following me around wherever I go. I don’t know him personally but I think he has a hand in some of the stuff we’re doing.”
Whitmire’s blog post this week was flooded with heartbroken reactions and support from his fans.
“Steve — I remember thinking Kermit should be retired after Jim’s death,” one fan wrote. “I just wanted to say thank you for proving me wrong. Your Kermit was a stalwart comfort for me over the years.”