Steve Whitmire: Legacy, Integrity and Dreams

Photo by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images

By: Ryan Weiss

OAKS, PA> It's that time of year again! Time for The Great Philadelphia Comic Con! Every year, artists, celebs, cosplayers and fans of all kinds gather at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks for a one of a kind, unique fan experience! During my time at The Great Philadelphia Comic Con, I was able to trade stories and experiences with legendary Muppet performer, Steve Whitmire.

After the death of The Muppets creator Jim Henson, in 1990, Steve was hand chosen by the Henson family to carry on Kermit the Frog's legacy. Since then, up until around 2016, Steve had been the voice and personality of the beloved Kermit, as well as other Muppets including Rizzo the Rat, Ernie (after Jim's death), Wembley Fraggle (Fraggle Rock), Bean Bunny and Lips from Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Steve's experience brings a lifetime of inspiration, memory and legacy. Up until 2017, he was one of the last performers still employed by the Henson Company that worked directly with Jim. As of now, Dave Goelz is a final remaining performer.

While talking to Steve, there was happiness, nostalgia and a bit of sadness. I mentioned that I grew up with the Muppets and how their personality has become a distinct part of who I am today. We talked about how wonderful Jim's vision was and how it could applied to family life. Acceptance was a huge part of what was projected, especially on Sesame Street. No matter what we look like, we are all the same. We also spoke about how we both felt that Jim's original vision and feeling seems to be slipping away. As many know, The Muppets were acquired by Disney in 2004. Since then, The Muppets have been re-branded and commercialized a bit differently that in the past. Some consensus has pointed to a loss of integrity or even purpose of the Muppet mission. Steve and I spoke on how a bit of the personality of The Muppets has definitely slipped in favor of commercialization and modernization. As a fan, I have seen this happen for many years and it has been frustrating. While speaking to my childhood hero, it was oddly comforting that we shared some of the same view points.

Even though the Whitemire/Jim Henson Company relationship ended on an sour note, I re-iterated to Steve that all was not lost in vain. Growing up with The Muppets, Jim's presence could be felt in the production and personal touch on each of The Jim Henson Company's projects. Steve and I mutually agreed that Jim had put his heart and soul into each character and project during his tenure before his death. Jim taught us that it is ok to dream. Jim challenged our imagination. Jim had a unique sense to make sure The Muppets felt like our family.

Connecting with Steve on our similar view points and remembrance of Jim was heart warming. The Muppets were and are an integral part of my life as a writer. Seeing Jim through the eyes and conversation of Steve is something that I will never forget. Steve's passion to maintain the integrity of the soul of The Muppets is still in his heart. He holds true to the gift of The Muppet mission. As our conversation wrapped, we looked into each others eyes and sincerely thanked each other. I thanked him for his incredible work and he thanked me for my kind words and thoughts. To elude to the lyrics in "The Rainbow Connection", what's so amazing, is that we keep stargazing.

Keep dreaming and creating, folks :)

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