Last week, it was announced that Matt Vogel would be replacing Steve Whitmire as the voice of Kermit the Frog. Two days later, Whitmire revealed the Muppets Studio had fired him back in October, and the studio has since said their “decision to part ways” was a result of Whitmire’s “unacceptable business conduct.”
“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 said in a statement to EW. “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.”
In a statement, Brian Henson, the company’s chairman and Jim Henson’s son, called Whitmire’s Kermit “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good” but said the actor would “send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director.”
Lisa Henson, president of the Jim Henson Company and Jim’s daughter, added that Whitmire was adamantly opposed to having an understudy for the role, but sometimes wouldn’t appear on set for “B-level performances, such as ribbon-cutting.” She added that he “blackballed young performers” by refusing to appear on the show with them.
This weekend, Whitmire shared a blog post hinting that his devotion to maintaining Jim’s legacy led to the decision. He confirmed this in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, where he also attributed his firing to 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 told the publication. “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.”
Kermit was originally voiced by Jim until his death in 1990, when Whitmire — who has been working in some capacity with the Muppets since 1978 — took over.
“I see my most important task as providing a taste of the atmosphere created by Jim Henson to those Post-Jim core performers who will never otherwise come by it,” Whitmire wrote on his blog Sunday. “My hope was to install it directly into their hearts and minds so that they could, in turn, be inspired to do the same for the next generation of performers instead of the characters becoming stale copies of their former selves. But, as I look around at what is presently transpiring it’s clear to me that the job is far from done.”
This story has been updated.