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".
Given that Muppets creator Jim Henson entrusted Kermit the Frog to Whitmire, the voice actor added that up to a certain extent, he knows the character better than anybody. After Disney picked up the rights to The Muppets franchise in 2004 - which resulted in two feature films from 2011 and 2014, as well as the The Muppet Show reboot on ABC from previous year - Whitmire stayed on as Kermit, even though his influence was apparently not always welcome. Disney and the Muppets Studio have different reasons, however.
The second issue Whitmire says he was given concerning his termination was a union issue. Now, both sides have shared more information about what was happening behind the scenes to The Hollywood Reporter, and it turns out that the two issues were "a union dispute" and a general pattern of behavior from Whitmire that-depending on who you listen to-was either "overly hostile and unproductive" or passionately protective of Kermit's legacy.
Kermit was Henson's signature character, and the centerpiece of the Muppets franchise, from 1955 until 1990, and when he died it was unthinkable for many to imagine someone else doing it.
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Disney and The Muppets Studio have a differing interpretation of the terms of Whitmire's departure, stating that the actor exhibited "unacceptable business conduct". 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 studio also notes that it made the decision to fire Whitmire after consulting with the Henson family and receiving their "full support".
"I thought I was aiding to keep it on track and I think a big reason why the show was canceled was because that didn't happen". "This is my life's work since I was 19 years old". But after almost three decades of playing the beloved Muppet, Whitmire was suddenly dismissed by Disney, and the job of being green would go to pupeteer Matt Vogel. "He's very talented with the Muppets; he is already performing and he was chosen by Jerry Nelson prior to his death to carry Jerry's characters forward".
Whitmare said that while he's ready to move on and pursue new projects, he will always cherish his time as Kermit, as well as his lasting friendship with Henson. Fans will hear his voice for the first time as the character in a "Muppets Thought of the Week" video next week.