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Fired Puppeteer Insists He Didn't Make Kermit The Frog 'Stale Or Bitter'

Kermit and Steve Whitmire in 2003 (Getty Images)
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The puppeteer who was fired after voicing Kermit the Frog for 27 years is speaking out about his dismissal. Responding to criticism that he had made the character a "bitter, angry, depressed victim," Steve Whitmire said that wasn't true.

"In terms of the character stuff of Kermit having become stale or bitter, it isn't true in my mind," Whitmire said on the Today show.

Whitmire effectively became the soul of Kermit the Frog after Kermit and Muppets creator Jim Henson died in 1990. Earlier this week Disney, which now owns the characters, revealed that they fired Whitmire, accusing him of "unacceptable business conduct," but Whitmire claimed to the Hollywood Reporter that he was simply "outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets" to executives, like whether Kermit would lie to his nephew Robin about breaking up with Miss Piggy. He also cited issues relating to work he could do or not do outside his SAF-AFTRA contract.

Brian Henson, Jim Henson's son, stood behind Disney's decision:

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"Kermit has, as a character, flattened out over time and has become too square and not as vital as it should have been," Henson explained. "Again, what my dad brought to it — without even thinking because he was accessing his own character that was coming out of his own personality — was a wry intelligence, a little bit of a naughtiness, but Kermit always loved everyone around and also loved a good prank." The character, as Whitmire had interpreted it, was getting away from what the elder Henson imagined, his son said.

"There was an awful lot of stuff to Kermit where people thought, 'Oh, Kermit is a wholesome, all-American lovely guy,' which was not really what my dad developed," Henson said. "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."

Whitmire, who said he was stunned by his firing, said on Today, "In my mind, my mentoring with Jim tells me that the minute the Muppets are reduced to being roles that are auditioned for and cast, it takes all of the individuality out of them... Their longevity is completely based on their consistency, and that is just super important, otherwise it's not Kermit or any of the Muppets at all and that's what I tried to push for and be outspoken about."An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year of Jim Henson's death. It was 1990, not 2007.