Jim Henson’s Son Brian Opens Up About Kermit the Frog Actor Steve Whitmire’s Firing

Brian Henson feels “guilty” that he didn’t fire longtime Kermit the Frog voice actor Steve Whitmire 13 years ago.

Henson, chairman of the Jim Henson Company named after his late father who created The Muppets, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, July 17, about Whitmire’s contentious exit. He claimed the main reason for letting Whitmire go was that he was being “‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues.”

Brian Henson presents a panel on muppet performance at Dragon Con on September 2, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Brian Henson presents a panel on muppet performance at Dragon Con on September 2, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. Bill Watters/WireImage

Henson said he wishes he would have parted ways with Kermit’s puppeteer when he sold the company to Disney in 2004. “I have to say, in hindsight, I feel pretty guilty that I burdened Disney by not having recast Kermit at that point because I knew that it was going to be a problem,” he told THR. “And I have always offered that if they wanted to recast Kermit, I was all for it, and I would absolutely help. I am very glad we have done this now. I think the character is better served to remove this destructive energy around it.”

The businessman claimed Whitmire’s communication with colleagues was “appalling” and that he made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship.” He added: “Steve would use ‘I am now Kermit and if you want the Muppets, you better make me happy because the Muppets are Kermit.’ And that is really not OK.”

Longtime Muppets performer Matt Vogel will be replacing Whitmire, and Henson believes the character is in good hands. “There was a lot of complexities to Kermit that have been kind of falling away, and I do believe Matt Vogel can access that energy really well. And Matt is a very good performer,” he said. “And I believe that in protecting Kermit going forward, Matt will do a really wonderful job. I think the fans should not be so scared of change.”

Muppet Kermit the Frog and his operator Steve Whitmire take questions from the audience November 14, 2003, at Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York City.
Muppet Kermit the Frog and his operator Steve Whitmire take questions from the audience November 14, 2003, at Barnes & Noble Union Square in New York City. Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Whitmire gave his version of events, claiming he was fired over his detailed character notes and a union dispute. “They were uncomfortable with the way I had handled giving notes to one of the top creative executives on the series,” he told The New York Times. “Nobody was yelling and screaming or using inappropriate language or typing in capitals. It was strictly that I was sending detailed notes. I don’t feel that I was, in any way, disrespectful by doing that.”

He added to The Hollywood Reporter that he was trying to help Kermit remain consistent. “We have been doing these characters for a long, long time and we know them better than anybody. I thought I was aiding to keep it on track, and I think a big reason why the show was canceled [after one season last fall] was because that didn’t happen,” Whitmire said. “I am not saying my notes would have saved it, but I think had they listened more to all of the performers, it would have made a really big difference.”

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