Steve Whitmire Had Real Fear Taking Over Kermit For The Muppet Christmas Carol

We all remember the time in our childhood when our parents/guardians sat us down and explained to us one of the hard truths of life: voice actors don't live forever. And we cried, and started pleading with them, asking "what about Bugs Bunny? He's had a consistent voice for over a hundred years!" To which they replied, "no he hasn't." And with tears in our eyes, we ran to our rooms, saving our caretakers from having to confront their own mortality.

When the voice actor of an iconic character passes away, the question of how to proceed with that character inevitably arises. For some, like Edna Krabappel of "The Simpsons," the character was respectfully retired after voice actor Marcia Wallace died. But for other characters, especially ones that have existed for decades and decades, a replacement must be found. This was the case with Minnie Mouse, whose longtime voice actor, Russi Taylor, died in 2019. Kaitlyn Robrock was chosen to take on the role, which put a lot of pressure on her to uphold the legacy of a beloved character, according to a 2021 interview. "[Russi's] legacy was to make you smile," she said, "and it is my greatest honor and privilege to continue her work and ensure that Minnie is the same cherished character that Disney fans around the world love and adore."

Similarly, the death of Jim Henson, the father of the Muppets, in 1990 meant losing Kermit the Frog's iconic voice. As Jim's son took over the Muppets, they needed a new voice actor to take up the mantle of Kermit. Steve Whitmire was chosen, but the prospect of being the new Kermit was one he was very unsure of, according to a 2015 Guardian interview.

A lot to live up to

Whitmire was to debut as the new voice of Kermit the Frog in the absolutely delightful "The Muppet Christmas Carol" in 1992. This meant not only having to embody one of the world's most famous puppets but also doing so alongside legendary actor Michael Caine. Whitmire, a seasoned Muppeteer in his own right, was extremely nervous about his ability to live up to Henson's legacy, according to the Guardian interview:

"I was taking over from Jim as Kermit, which was a little scary, as you might imagine. It was important not only to match Kermit's character, but also his voice. Jim and I don't sound exactly alike, and the night before we pre-recorded the songs, I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep, thinking: 'I really want this to be good, this means so much to everybody.'"

Not only was Whitmire struggling with nerves, but he worried that he'd be unable to properly replicate Henson's voice. For voice actors who inherit roles, this can often lead to lots of studying in order to perfect their imitation of the original actor. Kaitlyn Robrock spoke about this in an interview she did with /Film in September, saying how much studying her predecessor's work helped her get into character. "When I would study Russi's interpretation of it, I noticed a lot of the vocal nuances."

Whitmire had worked closely with Henson for years, giving him ample opportunities to watch him work. But he didn't feel entirely comfortable taking on his new role until he had a strange dream the night before recording the movie's songs.

The cycle continues

According to Whitmire, a dream featuring Jim Henson himself helped him feel better about his new gig:

"Then I had a bizarre dream. I was in this building that was all white, and Jim was there. He comes over to me, in a hurry to get somewhere quickly. I said to him: 'I'm really nervous about taking over Kermit.' He looked at me. Jim would do this thing where he would take one finger and put it on his bottom lip as he was thinking — he thought like this for a second and said: 'It'll pass.' And he walked away. It felt much more like a visit than a dream. The feeling from that gave me confidence for the whole film."

So with the blessing of Henson himself, Whitmire gained the confidence he needed to become Kermit. That confidence would help Whitmire continue in the role until his dismissal in 2017, which apparently was the result of behind-the-scenes issues.

And so, with Whitmire's exit, the cycle continues, and we got yet another new Kermit the Frog from Matt Vogel in 2017. While it's unclear whether Jim Henson also visited Vogel in a dream to reassure him that he could handle the role, he has continued to do an admirable job taking up the mantle of America's favorite frog, allowing the legacy of Kermit and the Muppets to continue into future generations. Because, as the great Duffman once said, "Duffman can never die! Only the actors who play him!"