Weekly Muppeteer Wednesdays: Steve Whitmire

Weekly Muppet Wednesday articles are brought to us by Tom Stroud!


September 24, 1959

Notable Muppets…
Kermit the Frog (1990-present), Rizzo the Rat, Wembley Fraggle, Sprocket, Bean Bunny, Lips, Ernie (1993-present) Waldo C. Graphic, Statler (2002-present), Beaker (1992-), The Muppet Newsman (2008-present)


Steve Whitmire, who shares the same birth date as Jim Henson, aspired to be a puppeteer even in his youth, obtaining the nickname Kermit and having a Kermit puppet that he preformed with. He even sent a letter to Jim Henson at the age of 11, and received a letter back. Steve first made contact with The Jim Henson Company through Caroll Spinney, who he met in 1977 at the Southeastern Regional Puppetry Festival. Later that year, Spinney told Steve that auditions were being held for Sesame Street, and that Jane Henson could meet him when she came down to Atlanta to inspect the Kermit balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. After meeting Steve, Jane recommended him to Jim Henson, who soon formally auditioned him and asked him to join the performers on The Muppet Show, performing for the first time on March 24, 1978.

On The Muppet Show, Steve performed mostly one-shot characters, right hands, and filled in when a Muppeteer was playing more than one character in a scene. However, he soon was given recurring characters of his own, such as Rizzo the Rat and Lips, who both were minor characters, having little dialogue. When Fraggle Rock came around, Steve was finally given major characters, Wembley Fraggle and Sprocket. He also preformed more characters, including Waldo C. Graphic, a CGI character on The Jim Henson Hour and Muppet*Vision 3D. During this period Rizzo gradually became one of the main Muppet characters.

Steve continued to work within the company, performing in Labyrinth as well as playing characters such as Skesis Scientist in The Dark Crystal, B.P. Richfield in Dinosaurs, and Mew in The Christmas Toy. After Jim Henson’s death in 1990, Steve took over the role of Kermit, starting with The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson and having his first major role as the frog in The Muppet Christmas Carol. He also took over Beaker after the death of Richard Hunt.

In 1993, Steve joined the cast of Sesame Street when it was decided to have him permanently recast as Ernie, who he still performs to this day.  He also took over the role of Statler after Jerry Nelson’s retirement in 2002. When new content was added to Disney Extreme Digital in 2008, Steve also took over for the Newsman as well as continuing to perform his other characters. 

Steve has appeared infrequently on Sesame Street recently due to his busy schedule, only performing Ernie in a few Muppet sketches and voicing him more frequently in the claymation sketches, “Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures.” Kermit appears even more infrequently on Sesame Street since Disney’s 2004 purchase of the classic Muppet characters, although he did have cameo in the 2009 segment, “Elmo’s World: Frogs.”

Steve continues to perform his classic Muppet characters as well, performing Kermit, Rizzo, Beaker, Statler, and others in Letters to Santa in 2008, Studio DC: Almost Live! in 2008 and 2009, and all of the Muppet YouTube videos–his most notable being his Webby-winning performance as Beaker in “Ode to Joy.” Presumably, Steve will be working on Disney’s new Muppet movie written by Jason Segel.

As Rizzo, Steve has made us laugh out loud and question our morality, as Wembley, Steve has made us fall in love with a fantastic character, and as Kermit, Steve has carried on the legacy of Jim Henson–something he continues to do to this day as one of only two remaining Muppeteers from the original cast of The Muppet Show.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier

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