Disney’s decision to fire muppeteer Steve Whitmire was one that may have been made after years of reported disagreements.
“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,” a spokesperson for The Muppets Studio told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “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, who voiced Kermit the Frog for 27 years, recently announced in a blog post verified by the publication that he was fired by Disney after previous reports claimed he left his role.
Muppets creator Jim Henson personally asked Whitmire to take over the role of Kermit before his death at age 53 in 1990. Whitmire was among those at the hospital when Henson passed away.
In addition to Kermit, Whitmire had voiced grumpy critic Statler, Rizzo the Rat, the always-startled Beaker, and other characters for the Muppets.
The 57-year-old told The Hollywood Reporter on Monday he was reportedly let go by Disney last October due to unwanted notes during the short-lived Muppets reboot on ABC, as well as a union disagreement.
“The first issue was that they felt I had been ‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series,” he explained. “I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney , but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions. At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know the Muppets.”
However, a source close to the studio told the publication Whitmire’s communication style was “overly hostile and unproductive” and his way of negotiation resulted in production delays. The source added it was his alleged persistent unprofessional behavior over the years that led to the firing.
Whitmire claimed he is still baffled by the decision.
“I am still trying to make sense of how those two issues were egregious enough to justify ending a 39-year career without at least giving me an ultimatum at the time the issue occurred when I would have had a chance to correct my course,” he added.
A Muppets Studio spokeswoman confirmed to the Associated Press that longtime Muppets performer Matt Vogel will take over the role of Kermit. Vogel has voiced such characters as Big Bird, Robin the Frog, and The Count.
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.
“The look he brings into the eyes of anyone of any age who meets him in person,” he said on his admiration for Kermit. “I can’t take credit for that, but have been truly honored to keep Jim’s spirit intact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.