After 27 years of performing Muppet troop leader Kermit the Frog, puppeteer Steve Whitmire is stepping down.
The Hollywood Reporter confirmed earlier stories about Whitmire, who had been absent from recent Muppet videos as Kermit or any of his other characters like Rizzo the Rat and Bean Bunny. It is currently unclear why Whitmire is retiring from the roles.
Following the death Muppet creator Jim Henson in 1990, Whitmire took up the unenviable task of replacing him as Kermit. He debut as the character in a 1991 Muppet TV special honor Henson. Though he only appeared as Kermit in its final minutes, it began a long association with the part which most fans eventually accepted. He would continue to the play the part — and his other characters — in movies like Muppets from Space, The Muppets and the short-lived Office-style ABC sitcom, The Muppets. Prior to taking over the part, Whitmire worked with the Muppets since the 1978 season of The Muppet Show in various roles.
While changes like this should be routine, the way Muppet voices and performers become linked to the characters is hard to ignore. The Henson Kermit is appreciably different from the Whitmire Kermit. And to think of anyone playing Rizzo or Bean besides Whitmire is tough to contemplate … even if I’ve spent my whole life learning to play Rizzo.
According to Muppet fan site Tough Pigs, veteran puppeteer Matt Vogel will take over as Kermit. It is currently unclear what will happen to other Whitmire characters like Rizzo and Beaker. Their report notes that Statler, a character Whitmire inherited, was performed by Peter Linz in recent commercials.