Steve Whitmire (b. September 24, 1959) is a puppeteer who started working for The Jim Henson Company on March 24, 1978 (his 18½ birthday). His career with the Muppets began on The Muppet Show, where he developed his first major character, Rizzo the Rat. Other main characters included Bean Bunny and, on Fraggle Rock, Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket. When Jim Henson passed away in 1990, Whitmire was selected to take over the roles of Kermit the Frog and Ernie. Following Richard Hunt's death and Jerry Nelson's retirement, he took over the roles of Beaker and Statler, respectively. His wife, Melissa Whitmire, has also puppeteered on occasion.
Born near Atlanta, Georgia, Steve Whitmire became interested in puppetry in his childhood, around the time that Sesame Street began airing in 1969. Whitmire recalled, "I wrote a letter to Jim Henson at the time, and he wrote back. It's an amazing thing for a ten-year-old to get a letter back from a TV star." Building on that early enthusiasm, Whitmire created his own puppets and performed throughout high school, even winning the school talent show on one occasion. After graduating high school, he briefly puppeteered at local theme park The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, performing his own character Otis the Beach Bum, and later co-hosted The Kid's Show with his best friend Gary Koepke for WATL in Atlanta, which was nominated for a state Emmy Award. 
Whitmire first made contact with the Muppets through Caroll Spinney, whom he met at the Southeastern Regional Puppetry Festival in 1977. That fall, Spinney informed Whitmire that auditions were being held for puppeteers for Sesame Street; upon calling the Henson offices, Whitmire learned that Jane Henson was coming to Atlanta the following week to inspect the Kermit balloon for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and that she could meet with him while there. After seeing Whitmire perform, she recommended him to Jim Henson, who eventually formally auditioned him and asked him to join the performers on The Muppet Show. His first day of performing was March 24, 1978.
From Right-Handing to Regular
Whitmire slowly became a major performer. On The Muppet Show, he often performed one-shot characters, right hands, and filled in when two of another performer's characters were in the same scene (for example, if Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy were in a scene together, Whitmire would generally perform Fozzie). He was given his own recurring characters, such as Foo-Foo, Rizzo the Rat, and Lips, all of whom were minor characters on The Muppet Show, with very little dialogue.
Whitmire became one of the core Muppet performers since performing on The Muppet Show and received his own major characters on Fraggle Rock, where he performed Sprocket and Wembley Fraggle, and the semi-recurring role of Marlon Fraggle. He would also add more characters to his repertoire over the years, performing many roles on The Jim Henson Hour, and Rizzo the Rat would gradually become a core member of the main cast.
Following the end of The Muppet Show, Whitmire continued to work within the Henson fold. He performed the Skeksis Scientist in The Dark Crystal, and was one of only 2 puppeteers who both operated and voiced his characters, the other being Brian Muehl. (Jerry Nelson also did vocal work on the movie, but did not puppeteer.) Whitmire commented on this:
“Jim Henson and Frank Oz had people submit tapes of what they thought a Skeksis would sound like, and it just so happened that the voice I did was exactly what they had in mind. So I just happened to get lucky and get a voice that worked with no particular effort... It just happened to be the one that was the right one.”
In The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, he performed the special's protagonist, Bean Bunny. Bean Bunny would soon go on to become a main character, starting with The Jim Henson Hour, for which Whitmire also performed a variety of other characters, including Flash and Waldo C. Graphic. He also appeared on-screen as himself in The Secrets of the Muppets.
Television Work in the 1990s
Whitmire performed many characters on Dinosaurs, most notably B.P. Richfield and the face of Robbie Sinclair (with voices later looped) and was also heard as various one-shot hand puppet characters, such as Mr. Mason Dixon. Following the end of the series in 1994, he was paired with Dave Goelz as the title duo on Jim Henson's Animal Show with Stinky and Jake, playing Jake and various other characters.
Continuing Kermit and Others
Steve Whitmire took on the role of Kermit the Frog after the death of Jim Henson, starting in The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. Although The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson was his first on-screen performance as Kermit, he considers The Muppet Christmas Carol to be his first real production as Kermit.
Later, Whitmire learned that there was consideration of him performing Kermit even before Henson's death:
“I have been told that Jim had said something about it to Frank. Not that I would perform Kermit when he died, but that he would need somebody else to do Kermit some of the time because he was so busy. He never said that to me, but I heard that through somebody that it had been talked about. Just that the two of them were so busy, that they may need to have to find stand-ins for their characters, so I guess it had been mentioned, but the actual time I was asked was by Brian. We were in Disney World for something. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I think it was the big tribute they did for Jim, and we went down for that. While we were there, one night I went over and met with Jane Henson, Brian, and Frank, and Brian mentioned me doing it. I was just overwhelmed by the request. It was a huge honor, and it also just scared the daylights out of me, the thought of trying it.”
When it was decided that Steve Whitmire would take over as the frog, Heather Henson arranged for a Kermit puppet to be sent to Atlanta for Whitmire to practice performing. Whitmire thought that the puppet smelled like Jim Henson, and although he put the puppet on once, he couldn't get himself to go near it and try out a voice for months. Eventually, Brian Henson called and asked him to do something with Kermit, record it on tape, and send it to him, so Whitmire performed Kermit singing "Bein' Green."
Regarding his first performance as Kermit, Whitmire has said:
“When we did the special, I always had this fantasy that the first time I performed Kermit it would be a nice, dark little moment in the studio and it would be 5 or 6 of the main guys... It would be real gentle and easy to do. What it turned out to be was that the closing scene of that special had about 50 puppets in it. So it was basically every puppeteer I've ever worked with in New York City, which was probably 25-30 people.”
One of the hardest things that Steve Whitmire had to do in The Muppet Christmas Carol was pre-record Kermit's voice for all of the songs first, as he recalled in an interview with Muppet Central:
“ I went to London for the start of Christmas Carol, and they already started working on the music a couple days before I got there. We pre-recorded all of the songs before we did the movie, so the first thing I was going to have to do was go in to record Kermit's voice, which I was super-nervous about, because I didn't have the puppet to rely on. There was something about seeing the puppet as one was hearing my voice, at that stage, that made it more believable, and it got people into it. If I just walked in and did Kermit's voice, they didn't buy it necessarily. They were still hearing Jim. If I had the puppet on, it was more believable.”
After Richard Hunt's death, he took over as Beaker:
“I think it was Dave's [Goelz's] idea that I do Beaker. They asked Dave, "Who do you think should do Beaker?" and he suggested me because we like to work together, and we work well together. Beaker was difficult because I had no clue where it came from in Richard. I didn't know at all how Richard did this. It was really just a matter of being silly with Dave. The truth is, I still don't know where it came from. I just don't know what part of Richard it came from... What facet of his personality. I don't relate to the character the way that Richard did, so really, with Beaker, I'm doing an awful lot of just copying Richard. I wouldn't say that I've got a good handle on that character, but it's fun. It's a fun character.”
Whitmire joined Sesame Street in 1993, when it was decided to permanently recast Ernie, although Jim Henson had originally auditioned him for the series years earlier. His first performance as Ernie was a fishing sketch with Bert, and he transitioned into the role on a more regular basis. According to Whitmire,
“[Performing Ernie] came about because they were looking for someone to do the voice for toys. I asked if I could audition for it. I did vocal recordings for Ernie toys for 2-3 years... A lot of them. When it came time to recast the character, I ended up doing it.”
Although John Tartaglia substituted during the second season of Play with Me Sesame, Whitmire continued to perform Ernie on Sesame Street and in other projects at least once a year through 2014, when he was succeeded by Billy Barkhurst and later Peter Linz.
In contrast to his regular Sesame Street work as Ernie, Whitmire's performances as Kermit the Frog were much less frequent on the show. Among the notable exceptions are sketch where Kermit teaches Grover the difference between light and dark (Episode 3784), Kermit reporting on Slimey landing on the moon (Episode 3740), Kermit reporting on Slimey returning home (Episode 3785), in the song "Everybody Be Yo'Self" and reporting on the hurricane that hit Sesame Street (Episode 3976). Whitmire has, however, performed Kermit in the Sesame Street specials Elmopalooza, Elmo Saves Christmas, CinderElmo, and the direct-to-video The Best of Kermit on Sesame Street. He also performed Kermit for his most recent Sesame appearance, a cameo in Elmo's World: Frogs.
In the early 2000s, he started performing Statler, beginning with the Weezer music video "Keep Fishin'." Whitmire puppeteered him in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie while Jerry Nelson looped the voice later; one of Whitmire's lines, "Historical landmark," remained un-looped. Following Nelson's retirement from the role, Steve Whitmire took over as Statler (with the notable exception of Statler & Waldorf: From the Balcony, where Drew Massey assumed the role from the eight episode onward). In an interview, Whitmire talked about playing Statler:
“For Statler, I was trying to decide if I should make it more like Jerry's original, or do I make it like Richard’s, which everyone knows from The Muppet Show, or do I make it like Jerry's since Richard's [death]. He’s just been passed around a lot. It's always been a problem for me that the characters got passed around. I get very conservative about this idea of one person doing the characters, and we shouldn't recast them so the character can grow and not be different every time we see them. So, I've tried to aim for more like what Richard did on The Muppet Show. And I know I don't really sound like Richard, and I have so much fun doing the character. And they only do like three lines at a time, but when we ad lib with them between scenes, it's so much fun. We have so much fun.”
In September 2009, Whitmire took an unexpected leave from performing Kermit, for appearances on America's Got Talent and the MTV Video Music Awards. Kermit was briefly performed by Artie Esposito in these instances. Whitmire returned to the role at a press conference for Give a Day. Get a Disney Day.
Whitmire has stated that he doesn't think he could have taken over Jim Henson's characters if he had not worked with Henson for so many years.
Steve Whitmire and Dave Goelz
As acknowledged by Whitmire in interviews, he and Dave Goelz work very well together. The aforementioned Bunsen and Beaker pairing was not the only time the two would work together as a team. On Fraggle Rock, Whitmire's Wembley often found himself paired off with Goelz as Boober, and they played Mew and Rugby respectively in The Christmas Toy.
Gonzo and Rizzo have become an almost inseparable team over the years, beginning with The Muppet Christmas Carol. In the same film, Goelz and Whitmire were paired as Betina and Belinda Cratchit, doing variations of Frank Oz's Miss Piggy.
On Muppets Tonight, the two remained paired as Piggy's nephews, Andy and Randy Pig. Whitmire took over the role of Beaker, playing off Goelz's Bunsen. Whitmire also took over the role of Statler, playing off Waldorf, whom Dave Goelz has performed since 1992, and during the 1990s, the two performed the duo Jake and Stinky on The Animal Show.
Leaving the Muppets
In July 2017, ToughPigs.com released a statement from Disney that Whitmire was no longer involved with the Muppets and that longtime Muppet performer Matt Vogel would take over performing Kermit, beginning with a Muppet Thought of the Week video (planned for the following week, but delayed until August).
Whitmire launched a personal blog revealing that he had been informed in October 2016 that he would be dismissed from his roles and his characters would be recast, citing issues that had previously not been communicated with him. Before the decision had been made, Disney consulted with the Henson family, who supported the recasting of Kermit and Whitmire's dismissal. Lisa and Brian Henson made statements to the press about their views on working conditions over the years.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Whitmire claimed that he was fired over creative disagreements and prolonged labor union negotiations that delayed his involvement in Muppet productions. He specifically cited The Muppets episode "Little Green Lie", expressing concern over a situation in which Kermit lies to his nephew Robin in order to shield him from a romantic breakup with Miss Piggy.
Disney released a follow-up statement to explain their reasons for letting Whitmire go, claiming that "unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years" and Whitmire's "[consistent failure] to address the feedback" led to the decision.
Whitmire's final performances with the Muppets following the end of The Muppets (2015) include performing Kermit at the Vulture Festival in May 2016, performing Lips at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in August 2016, two pre-recorded video appearances as Kermit (one for Tough Pigs' "Fozzie Awards" and another for the Puppets for Puppetry event honoring Dave Goelz, both in September 2016) and a pre-recorded audio track for Great Moments in American History, which debuted in October 2016.
- The Muppet Show Characters: Billy Boy, one of the Dancing Sacks, Fletcher Bird (voice), Foo-Foo, Geri and the Atrics tuba player, Leo (episode 403), Lips, Pinocchio, Rizzo the Rat, Rowlf the Dog (occasional, hands only), Security Guard, The Snorers' Chorus member, Thog (episode 502), Timmy Monster (occasional, voice in episode 423), Trevor the Gross, The White Rabbit, Winky Pinkerton (episode 308), Zeke (1979-1981)
- The Muppet Movie: Additional Muppet performer (assisted on multiple characters)
- The Great Muppet Caper: Rizzo the Rat, Lips
- The Dark Crystal: Skeksis Scientist
- Fraggle Rock: Wembley Fraggle, Sprocket, Marlon Fraggle, Murray the Minstrel (except episode 512), Flange Doozer, Crusty Doozer, Flying Batworm, Mermer Merggle, Papa Tree Creature, Phil Fraggle (puppeteer only), Sir Blunderbrain, Venerable Sage Hambo
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: Rizzo the Rat, Gil, Dogs
- Dreamchild: The Caterpillar, The Mock Turtle (puppetry only)
- Labyrinth: Ambrosius, Fiery 4, one of The Four Guards (puppetry only)
- The Christmas Toy: Mew
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years: Sprocket, Rizzo the Rat
- A Muppet Family Christmas: The Christmas Turkey, Wembley, Sprocket, Rizzo the Rat, Foo-Foo, Lips
- The Tale of the Bunny Picnic: Bean Bunny
- Inner Tube: Henry, Duke
- The Jim Henson Hour: Bean Bunny, Flash, Jacques Roach, Waldo C. Graphic, Yellow Extreme, Foo-Foo
- The Cosby Show: Food
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World: Bean Bunny, Rizzo the Rat, Foo-Foo, Sprocket, Lips
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson: Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Whoopie Cushions
- Muppet*Vision 3D: Bean Bunny, Rizzo the Rat, and Waldo C. Graphic
- Dinosaurs: B.P. Richfield (puppeteer), Robbie Sinclair (face), Chief Elder (face), Mr. Mason Dixon, Sonny, Woody, Blarney, Judge H.T. Stone (puppeteer)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol: Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Belinda Cratchit, Laundress, Sprocket, Pig Businessman, Whatnots, Rats, Inkspots
- Muppet Meeting Films: Flunky, J.P. Braithwaite, Kermit
- Billy Bunny's Animal Songs: Kermit the Frog
- Sesame Street Stays Up Late: Ernie
- Sesame Street: Ernie (1993-2014), Kermit the Frog (1996-2001, 2009), Dr. Feel
- Jim Henson's The Animal Show with Stinky and Jake: Jake the Polar Bear, Wingo the Shoebill, Lawrence the Orangutan
- Muppet Classic Theatre: Rizzo the Rat, Kermit the Frog
- Muppets on Wheels: Kermit the Frog
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree: Kermit the Frog
- Muppet Treasure Island: Rizzo, Kermit, Beaker, Walleye Pike, Inkspots, The Dodo, Rats
- Things That Fly: Kermit the Frog, Co-Pilot
- Muppets Tonight: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Andy Pig, Mr. Poodlepants, Captain Pighead, Eugene, Lash Holstein, Miss Weatherington, Meepzorp, George the Janitor, Bug Llewelyn, Farm person, Pigeons, Nigel's Mom
- Elmo Saves Christmas: Kermit the Frog
- 123 Count with Me: Ernie
- Quiet Time: Ernie
- Elmopalooza: Ernie, Kermit the Frog
- The Best of Kermit on Sesame Street: Kermit the Frog
- Muppets from Space: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Cosmic Fish, Bean Bunny
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Ernie, Stuckweed, Football Stenchman, Bad Humor Man, Sharon Groan
- CinderElmo: Prince the Dog, Ernie, Kermit
- Muppet RaceMania: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Bean Bunny, Link Hogthrob, Gil, Flange Doozer
- Play with Me Sesame: Ernie
- Bert & Ernie's Word Play: Ernie, Lead Singer of The Frosty Four, Mo
- Kermit's Swamp Years: Jack Rabbit, Kermit the Frog, Young Kermit, and Chico
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Bean Bunny, Mr. Poodlepants, Statler, one of the Elvises
- Talk, Read, Write: The King of Reading and Writing
- Muppets Party Cruise: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Bean Bunny, Andy Pig, Link Hogthrob
- The Muppets' Wizard of Oz: Kermit the Frog, Statler, Beaker, Rizzo the Rat, Foo-Foo
- From the Balcony: Statler
- Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: Kermit the Frog
- Disney Xtreme Digital: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, The Newsman, Statler, Beaker, Singing Food, Bean Bunny
- Muppet viral videos: Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Statler, Rizzo the Rat, Pumpkins, Penguins, Turkey, Rabbits
- Count on Sports: Ernie
- Studio DC: Almost Live!: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Statler, Beaker
- Abby in Wonderland: Ernie
- A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler
- The Muppets Kitchen with Cat Cora: Kermit the Frog, Beaker, The Newsman, Andy Pig
- The Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Statler, The Newsman, Link Hogthrob
- Just for Laughs: Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Statler
- Muppets Most Wanted: Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Statler, The Newsman, Rizzo the Rat, Link Hogthrob, Lips, Foo-Foo
- The Muppets 2015 Presentation Pilot: Kermit the Frog, Statler, Rizzo the Rat, The Newsman, Beaker
- The Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Statler, Rizzo the Rat, The Newsman, Beaker, Lips, Foo-Foo
- Was nicknamed Kermit in his youth because he aspired to become a puppeteer and even performed with a Kermit which he made. His high school yearbook even has the name "Kermit" on the front cover.
- Shares the same birthday (September 24) as Jim Henson.
- At one of his last meetings with Jim Henson, Henson commented to Whitmire that although he was a main Muppet performer, he didn't really have any main Muppet characters besides Rizzo and Bean Bunny, and told him that he was going to try to create a new main character for Whitmire to perform.
- In The Muppet Movie, he used a remote control device to operate Kermit's hand while playing the banjo during "Rainbow Connection".
- A quote from the Muppet Central interview with Steve Whitmire: "I designed the little mechanism inside of [Rizzo] that makes his mouth move."
- Supporter/chairperson and volunteer at actress Tippi Hedren's wildlife preserve SHAMBALA, located in Acton, CA. Whitmire and his wife, Melissa have volunteered countless hours helping bring wild cats for veterinarian care, etc.
- ↑ ToughPigs forum - At the UK premiere of Muppets Most Wanted on March 24, 2014, Whitmire told the audience that it had been exactly 36 years since he joined the Muppets.
- ↑ Interview with Berkmar High School Newspaper
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Plume, Kenneth Muppet Central interview
- ↑ Official website of Gary Koepke
- ↑ Whitmire, Steve Tough Pigs interview: My Week with Steve : Day 3
- ↑ Louise Gitkow, Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street, page 135
- ↑ ToughPigs.com "Steve Whitmire No Longer with the Muppets" by Joe Hennes, July 10, 2017
- ↑ Muppet Pundit "It’s Time To Get Things Started…" by Steve Whitmire, July 12, 2017
- ↑ New York Times "Kermit the Frog Performer and Disney Spar Over an Ugly Muppet Firing" By Sopan Deb and Sophie Haigney, July 17, 2017
- ↑ Hollywood Reporter "Jim Henson's Son Explains Why Kermit Actor Was Replaced" by Ryan Parker, July 18, 2017
- ↑ Hollywood Reporter "Disney Says It Fired Kermit the Frog Actor Over Unacceptable Business Conduct" by Ryan Parker, July 17, 2017
- ↑ ToughPigs.com "Muppets Studio Releases Statement on Steve Whitmire Situation" by Joe Hennes, July 17, 2017
- ↑ A&E Biography: Sesame Street
- ↑ 2momluvme interview
- ↑ The Importance of Jim Henson pg 76-77