Steve L. Whitmire (b. September 24th, 1959) is a Muppeteer who has been working for the Jim Henson Company since 1978. Some of his Muppet characters are, Bean Bunny, Foo-Foo, Lips & Rizzo the Rat. Also, after Jim Henson's very sudden, tragic death, Whitmire was picked to take over the roles of both Kermit the Frog & Ernie. He took over the roles of Beaker, following Richard Hunt's death, & Statler, following Jerry Nelson's retirement. 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, & he wrote back. It's an amazing thing for a 10-year-old to get a letter back from a TV star." Building on that early enthusiasm, Whitmire created his own puppets & performed throughout high school, even winning the school talent show on 1 occasion. After graduating high school, he briefly puppeteered at local theme park The World of Sid & Marty Krofft, performing his own character Otis the Beach Bum, & later cohosted The Kid's Show w/ his best friend Gary Koepke for WATL in Atlanta, which was nominated for a state Emmy Award.
Whitmire 1st 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 & that she could meet with him while there. After seeing Whitmire perform, she recommended him to Jim Henson, who eventually formally auditioned him & asked him to join the performers on The Muppet Show. His 1st day of performing was March 24th, 1978.
From Right-Handing to Regular
Whitmire slowly became a major performer. On The Muppet Show, he often performed 1-shot characters, right hands, & filled in when 2 of another performer's characters were in the same scene (for example, if Fozzie Bear & Miss Piggy were in a scene together, Whitmire would generally perform the puppetry for Fozzie while Frank Oz performed the voice for both of them). He was soon given some of his own recurring characters, such as Foo-Foo, Rizzo the Rat, & Lips, all of whom were minor characters on The Muppet Show, with very little dialogue.
Whitmire became 1 of the core Muppet performers since performing on The Muppet Show, & received his own major characters on Fraggle Rock, where he performed Sprocket & Wembley Fraggle, & the semi-recurring role of Marlon Fraggle. He also added more characters to his repertoire over the years, performing many roles on The Jim Henson Hour, & 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, & was the only puppeteer who both operated & voiced his character. (Jerry Nelson also did vocal work on the movie, but didn't puppeteer.) Whitmire commented on this:
- "Jim Henson & Frank Oz had people submit tapes of what they thought a Skeksis would sound like, & it just so happened that the voice I did was exactly what they had in mind. So I just happened to get lucky & 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 w/ The Jim Henson Hour, for which Whitmire also performed a variety of other characters, including Flash & Waldo C. Graphic. He also appeared on-screen as himself in The Secrets of the Muppets.
TV Work in the 1990s
After the death of Jim Henson, Whitmire took over for Kermit the Frog & he became Ernie to Frank Oz's Bert in 1993 also. In addition to that, after the death of Richard Hunt, he became Beaker to Dave Goelz's Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. Whitmire performed many characters on Dinosaurs, most notably B.P. Richfield & the face of Robbie Sinclair (with voices later looped) & was also heard as various 1-shot hand puppet characters, such as Mr. Mason Dixon. Following the series' end in 1994, he was paired w/ Dave Goelz as the title duo on The Animal Show, playing Jake the Polar Bear & various other characters.
Continuing Kermit & 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 1st on-screen performance as Kermit, he considers The Muppet Christmas Carol to be his 1st 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 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, & we went down for that. While we were there, 1 night I went over & met with Jane Henson, Brian, & Frank, & Brian mentioned me doing it. I was just overwhelmed by the request. It was a huge honor, & 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, & although he put the puppet on once, he couldn't get himself to go near it & try out a voice for months. Eventually, Brian called & asked him to do something with Kermit, record it on tape, & send it to him, so Whitmire performed Kermit singing "Bein' Green".
Regarding his 1st 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 & it would be 5 or 6 of the main guys... It would be real gentle & 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."
1 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 1st, as he recalled in an interview with Muppet Central:
- "I went to London for the start of Christmas Carol, & 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, & it got people into it. If I just walked in & 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."
- "I think it was Dave's [Goelz's] idea that I do Beaker. They asked Dave, "Who do you think should do Beaker?" & he suggested me because we like to work together, & 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 shared. His 1st performance as Ernie was a fishing sketch with Bert, & 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."
In contrast to his regular Sesame Street work as Ernie, Whitmire has rarely performed new material with Kermit the Frog on that series, mainly because Sesame Workshop lost the rights to him when Disney had bought the Muppets. 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 and Waldorf: From the Balcony, where Drew Massey assumed the role from the 8th episode onward). In an interiew, 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.
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 and 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.
- The Muppets Characters: Kermit the Frog (1990-present), Beaker (1992-present), Statler (2002-present), The Newsman (2008-present), Rizzo the Rat, Lips, Bean Bunny
- The Muppet Show Characters: Billy Boy, Foo-Foo, Geri & the Atrics tuba player, Jabberwock, 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: Kermit the Frog (assistant for The Rainbow Connection number)
- The Great Muppet Caper: Rizzo the Rat, Lips
- The Dark Crystal: SkekTek 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 (Gorg Bird), Phil Fraggle (puppeteer 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, one 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, 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-present), Kermit the Frog (1996-2001, 2009), Dr. Feel, Cookie Monster's Mommy (2003), Guy Smiley (Season 32)
- 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
- 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 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, Bean Bunny
- Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony: Statler
- 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
- Virmup: 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
- Letters to Santa: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler
- The Muppets: Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker, Statler, Link Hogthrob, Lips
- Was nicknamed Kermit in his youth because he aspired to become a puppeteer & 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 24th).
- Steve occasionally performed Kermit on The Muppet Show when Jim wanted to take a break.
- At 1 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 & Bean Bunny, & told him that he was going to try to create a new main character for Whitmire to perform.
- Steve Whitmire's favorite Muppet movie is The Muppet Movie.
- In The Muppet Movie, he used a remote control device to operate Kermit's hand while playing the banjo during The 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 & volunteer at actress Tippi Hedren's wildlife preserve SHAMBALA, located in Acton, CA. Whitmire & his wife, Melissa have volunteered countless hours helping bring wild cats for veterinarian care, etc.
- Characters of Jim Henson's Steve Whitmire has performed once or consistently are:
- Kermit the Frog (1990 - present)
- Ernie (1993 - present)
- The Newsman (2008 - present)
- Link Hogthrob (Muppet RaceMania (2000), (Muppet Party Cruise (2003) & The Muppets (2011))
- Guy Smiley (Sesame Street season 32) (2001)
- Zeke (1979 - ca. 1980s)
- The Swedish Chef (I Love Lucy Movie Mania Screen Test) (1999)