As much as we’d hate-watch an I’m Dying Up Here-style dramedy about the sex-and-drug-fueled behind-the-scenes antics of puppeteers at a Hensonesque studio in the ‘70s (Note to networks: please do not actually do this), it’s probably better not to dig too deeply into the actual backstage politics at the actual Jim Henson Company, so as to maintain a sense of innocence about something. All that is an admittedly long-winded way to apologize for the fact that we don’t know why Steve Whitmire, who has performed as Kermit The Frog both as a puppeteer and as a voice actor since Jim Henson’s death in 1990, has pulled out (sorry) from his role as the iconic character. We simply know that he has.
This news comes courtesy of the Muppets fan site ToughPigs, which says that, after noticing a few suspicious changes in recent Muppets videos, it contacted Disney for comment, and was told: “Steve Whitmire is no longer working with the Muppets. Matt Vogel will be the new performer for Kermit the Frog. We will be seeing Matt’s first footage as Kermit in a Muppets Thought Of The Week video next week.”
This is big news, not only because Vogel is now only the third person to perform as Kermit since the character’s creation in 1955, but because Whitmire has been with the Jim Henson Company since 1978, and took over Kermit just weeks after Jim Henson’s death in 1990. Whitmire also originated the characters of Rizzo the Rat, Lips from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Miss Piggy’s dog Foo-Foo, Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket The Dog, and Beany Bunny, and took over the roles of Sesame Street’s Ernie and The Muppets’ Beaker and Statler after the departure of their original puppeteers.
It’s also not clear how long Whitmire has been gone from the company, although ToughPigs says it first noticed something was up a few months ago.
[Thanks to reader Daryl Walker II for the tip.]