Brian Henson, the son of the legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson, told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday that Kermit the Frog actor Steve Whitmire was fired for unprofessional conduct.
Henson told THR that he understands the concern fans have expressed over Whitmire’s firing, but that he has had plenty of conversations with the actor over the 27 years Whitmire played the iconic character about the “appalling” way he communicated with his colleagues.
The chairman of the Jim Henson Company revealed that Whitmire also made “outrageous demands and often played brinkmanship,” which he was told to stop as far back as the mid-1990s.
While Henson did not reveal specific details about Whitmire’s demands, he did say, “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.”
Henson wasn’t always happy with Whitmire’s interpretation of the character his father created, saying, “Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been.”
He continued, “What my dad developed was that Kermit the Frog is a little bit of a prankster, he likes to put an act on stage that will shock you and is kind of weird. But, Kermit the Frog, when push comes to shove, is loyal and believes in the family of friends. Kermit believes you should love and respect the being most different from you because of how different they are.”
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Henson said he believes Matt Vogel, who was hired to voice Kermit the Frog after Whitmire was fired, “can access that energy really well.”
“Matt is a very good performer. And I believe in protecting Kermit going forward, Matt will do a really wonderful job,” he continued. “I think the fans should not be so scared of change. Steve did Kermit for a very long time — I would say far too long. And the character was no longer being serviced by Steve performing Kermit.”
Overall, Henson said he is simply looking to preserve his father’s legacy.
“My dad’s No. 1 thing was don’t repeat yourself. Innovate. Do something new,” Henson said. “He is the guy who canceled The Muppets Show when it was the No. 1 show in the world after five seasons because he was worried he was going to start repeating himself.”
“The last thing my dad would want is that Kermit just keeps doing the same thing over and over and over and is in the same circumstances and having the same attitude,” he added. “The character needs to be stretched and maintain his heart.”