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Disney says Kermit the Frog puppeteer fired over ‘unacceptable business conduct’

In this July 11, 2015, file photo, Kermit the Frog, left, and puppeteer Steve Whitmire attend “The Muppets” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. ABC News and The Hollywood Reporter reported July 10, 2017, that Whitmire is no longer performing the character. (Tonya Wise / Invision/AP)
In this July 11, 2015, file photo, Kermit the Frog, left, and puppeteer Steve Whitmire attend “The Muppets” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. ABC News and The Hollywood Reporter reported July 10, 2017, that Whitmire is no longer performing the character. (Tonya Wise / Invision/AP)

The war of words rages on, but none of them are coming from the little green frog.

The Muppets Studio released a statement Monday revealing a bit more about its decision to part ways with longtime Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire.

“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 Muppets Studio said. “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,” the statement concluded.

Whitmire had been performing with the Muppets since 1978 and took on the role of Kermit after the untimely death of Muppets creator Jim Henson in 1990.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter Monday, Whitmire acknowledged that his opinionated communication style was unacceptable for Disney.

“They felt I had been ‘disrespectful’ in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series (‘The Muppets’),” Whitmire told THR.

“I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney (in 2004), 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,“ Whitmire said.

The Henson family chose Whitmire to replace Jim Henson as Kermit in 1990, but it has no current involvement with the Muppets. Disney purchased Kermit and the gang from the Jim Henson Co. in 2004 in a deal valued at $90 million.

In an interview with the New York Times on Monday, Lisa Henson, president of Jim Henson Co. and Jim Henson’s daughter, had her own take on Whitmire’s behavior.

“He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations,” Henson said, going on to explain that Whitmire also refused to have an understudy.

“He blackballed young performers,” Henson said of Whitmire’s relationships with new talent.

Jim Henson Co. Chairman Brian Henson, Jim Henson’s son, said that Whitmire’s Kermit was “sometimes excellent, and always pretty good,” but it was what happened once the cameras were off that became a problem.

“He’d send emails and letters attacking everyone, attacking the writing and attacking the director,“ Brian Henson said.

What happened in the past with Whitmire and Disney remains muddy, but the future looks clear for Kermit.

Matt Vogel, veteran Muppet puppeteer, will make his debut as the new Kermit the Frog on this week’s installment of “Muppet Thought of the Week.”

Representatives for Disney, which owns Muppets Studio, did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to The Times’ request for comment about Whitmire’s departure.


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