Steven Lawrence "Steve" Whitmire is an American puppeteer, who began his career with the Muppets during season three of The Muppet Show in 1978, where he developed his first major character, Rizzo the Rat.
After Jim Henson passed away in May 1990, Whitmire was selected to take over the role of Kermit the Frog. Then, following Richard Hunt's death and Jerry Nelson's retirement, he also took over the roles of Beaker and Statler, respectively. His wife, Melissa Whitmire, has also puppeteered on occasion.
Outside Disney, Steve was also the performer Ernie (another character he took over from Jim Henson) on Sesame Street from 1993 to 2014 when Billy Barkhurst took over, and Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket in Fraggle Rock.
Continuing Kermit and Others
Steve Whitmire became the performer of Kermit the Frog after Jim Henson's tragic death, 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 when Jim was still alive: "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 2 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, 1 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 could not get himself to go near it and try out a voice for months. Eventually, Brian called and asked him to do something with Kermit, record it on tape, & 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 1st 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 the death of Richard Hunt, Whitmire took over as Beaker to Dave Goelz's Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, adding yet another character to his list: "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. So, in that year, Steve became Ernie to Frank Oz's Bert, taking Jim's place in the dynamic duo he & Frank formed. His first performance as Ernie was a fishing sketch with Bert, and he transitioned into the role on a more regular basis. Although John Tartaglia substituted during season 2 of Play With Me Sesame, Whitmire continues to perform Ernie to this day. According to Whitmire, "[Performing Ernie] came about cause 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." As of 2014, Billy Barkhurst has now taken over the role of Ernie since Season 45, while Whitmire will continue to perform various other characters in the show for then on.
In contrast to his regular Sesame Street work as Ernie, Whitmire has rarely performed new material with Kermit the Frog for the show, mainly cause Sesame Workshop lost the rights to him when Disney had bought the Muppets in February, 2004. Among the notable exceptions are sketch where Kermit teaches Grover the difference between light & dark, 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" & 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, & the direct-to-video The Best of Kermit on Sesame Street.
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; 1 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 8th 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 1 person doing the characters, & we shouldn't recast them so the character can grow & not be different every time we see them. So, I've tried to aim for more like what Richard did on The Muppet Show. & I know I don't really sound like Richard, & I have so much fun doing the character. And they only do like 3 lines at a time, but when we ad lib with them between scenes, it's so much fun. We have so much fun."
In 2008, new Muppet video content was added to Disney Extreme Digital, where in addition to continuing to perform Kermit & Rizzo, Steve Whitmire also took over as The Newsman, another of Jim Henson's characters.
In September 2009, Whitmire took an unexpected leave from performing Kermit, for appearances on America's Got Talent & 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.
Since 2006, Steve has had a limited schedule on Sesame Street due to his busy schedule with The Walt Disney Company. However, he performed Ernie on several Ready to Learn PSA's, Count on Sports, Abby in Wonderland, the song "What I Am" & a song called "I Wonder". He also performed Kermit for his cameo in Elmo's World: Frogs.
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.
In 2017, Disney announced that longtime Muppet performer Matt Vogel has now taken over the role of Kermit as of July 10, 2017 full time, after Muppet Studios dismissed Whitmire from the role in October 2016 due to undisclosed issues. Whitmire himself cited disagreements with writers and producers over Kermit's portrayal in ABC's The Muppets, while others have claimed clashes over various business disagreements across a number of years finally coming to a head.
Steve Whitmire & Dave Goelz
As acknowledged personally by Whitmire in many interviews, he & Dave Goelz work very well together, just like Jim Henson did w/ Frank Oz, & like Jerry Nelson did w/ Richard Hunt. The aforementioned Bunsen & Beaker pairing wasn't the only time the 2 would work together as a team. On Fraggle Rock, Whitmire's Wembley often found himself paired off w/ Goelz as Boober, & they played Mew & Rugby Tiger respectively in The Christmas Toy.
Gonzo & Rizzo have become an almost inseparable team over the years, beginning w/ The Muppet Christmas Carol. In the same film, Goelz & Whitmire were paired as Betina & Belinda Cratchit, doing variations of Frank Oz's Miss Piggy.
On Muppets Tonight, the 2 remained paired as Miss Piggy's nephews, Andy & Randy Pig. Whitmire took over the role of Beaker when Richard Hunt passed away, playing off Goelz's Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Whitmire also recently took over the role of Statler from Jerry Nelson, who, in 2004, retired from voicing his characters for health reasons, playing off of Waldorf, whom Dave Goelz has performed since 1992, after Jim Henson's tragic death, &, also during the 1990s, the 2 performed the duo Jake & Stinky the Skunk on The Animal Show.
- Muppet Characters: Kermit the Frog (1990–2016), Beaker (1992–2016), Statler (2002–2016), The Newsman (2008–2016), Rizzo the Rat (1980–2016), Lips, Bean Bunny
- The Muppet Show Characters: Billy Boy, Foo-Foo, Geri and the Atrics tuba player, Jabberwock, Leo (403), Lips, Pinocchio, Rizzo the Rat, Rowlf the Dog (occasional, hands only), Security Guard, The Snorers' Chorus member, Thog (502), Timmy Monster (occasional, voice in 423), Trevor the Gross, The White Rabbit, Winky Pinkerton (episode 308), Zeke (1979-1981)
- The Muppet Movie: Kermit the Frog (assistant for The Rainbow Connection number)
- The Great Muppet Caper: Rizzo the Rat, Lips
- The Dark Crystal: SkekTek
- Fraggle Rock: Wembley Fraggle, Sprocket, Marlon Fraggle, Murray the Minstrel (except 512), Flange Doozer, Crusty Doozer, Flying Batworm, Mermer Merggle, Papa Tree Creature, Phil Fraggle (puppetry only), Sir Blunderbrain, Venerable Sage Hambo
- The Muppets Take Manhattan: Gil, Rizzo the Rat, Dogs
- Dreamchild: The Caterpillar, The Mock Turtle (puppetry only)
- Labyrinth: Ambrosius, Fiery 4, 1 of The Four Guards (puppetry only)
- The Christmas Toy: Mew
- A Muppet Family Christmas: The Christmas Turkey, Wembley Fraggle, Sprocket, Rizzo the Rat, Foo-Foo, Lips
- The Tale of the Bunny Picnic: Bean Bunny
- Inner Tube: Henry, Duke
- The Jim Henson Hour: Flash, Jacques Roach, Waldo C. Graphic, Yellow Extreme, Bean Bunny, Foo-Foo
- The Cosby Show: Singing Food
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World: Rizzo the Rat, Lips, Foo-Foo, Sprocket, Bean Bunny
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson: Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Kermit the Frog
- Muppet*Vision 3D: Bean Bunny, Rizzo the Rat, Waldo C. Graphic
- Dinosaurs: B.P. Richfield (puppet), Robbie Sinclair (face), Chief Elder (face), Mr. Mason Dixon, Sonny, Woody, Blarney, Judge H.T. Stone (puppet)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol: Belinda Cratchit, Laundress, Kermit the Frog (as Bob Cratchit), Bean Bunny, Rizzo the Rat, Lips, Beaker, Sprocket, Whatnots, Rats, Inkspots, Pig Buisnessman
- Meeting Films: Flunky, Kermit the Frog, Mr. Briteweight
- 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, Cookie Monster's Mommy (2003)
- Jim Henson's The Animal Show with Stinky & Jake: Jake the Polar Bear
- Muppet Classic Theatre: Rizzo the Rat, Kermit the Frog, Andy Pig
- Muppets on Wheels: Kermit the Frog
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree: Kermit the Frog
- Muppet Treasure Island: Walleye Pike, Rizzo the Rat, Kermit the Frog (as Captain Abraham Smollett), Beaker, Jacques Roach, Inkspots, The Dodo, Rats
- Things That Fly: Kermit the Frog, Co-Pilot
- Muppets Tonight: Andy Pig, Captain Pighead, Eugene, Lash Holstein, Miss Weatherington, Mr. Poodlepants, Kermit the Frog, Beaker, Rizzo the Rat, 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, Bean Bunny, Cosmic Fish, Beach Hippie
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Ernie, Bad Humor Man, Sharon Groan, Stuckweed, Football Stenchman
- CinderElmo: Prince the Dog, Ernie, Kermit the Frog
- 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, Chico
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Bean Bunny, Mr. Poodlepants, Statler (1 line) & 1 of the Elvises
- Talk, Read, Write: The King of Reading & 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 (as the Scarecrow), Rizzo the Rat (as the Mayor of Munchkinland), Beaker, Statler (as Kalidah Critic), Bean Bunny
- Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony: Statler (1 episode)
- Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: Kermit the Frog
- Disney Extreme Digital: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler, Bean Bunny, The Newsman, Singing Food, Turkey
- Muppet viral videos: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler, Pumpkins, Penguins, Turkey, Rabbits
- Count on Sports: Ernie
- Studio DC: Almost Live!: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler
- Abby in Wonderland: Ernie
- A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler
- The Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Link Hogthrob, The Newsman, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler, and Lips
- Muppets Most Wanted: Kermit the Frog, Foo-Foo, Beaker, Rizzo the Rat, Statler, Link Hogthrob, The Newsman, and Lips
- 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 as Jim Henson (September 24).
- At one of his last meetings with Jim Henson, Henson commented to Whitmire that although he was a main Muppet performer, he did not 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.
- Disney offered to name him a Disney Legend if he quit the role of Kermit quietly, but he turned the offer down.
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