Last week Disney fired the voice of Kermit the Frog. Steve Whitmire had played the famous green frog for the past 27 years. As he said in an interview, “Playing Kermit is my life.”
While details are a bit sketchy, it appears that Whitmire was a difficult employee. He refused to perform at certain events and walked away from a video shoot with Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy. He also generated a great deal of editorial input, sometimes writing pages and pages of recommended changes for the production team.
After much consideration, Disney had enough with Whitmire and fired him, replacing him with another Muppet performer. You can read more about the story here.
There are three good lessons to be learned from Kermit‘s downfall.
Steve Whitmire seemed to think that he was irreplaceable. His overconfidence rendered him tough to work with. He became demanding and difficult.
The reality is that everyone can be replaced and eventually will be. Disney could replace him, and they did.
Keep this in mind when you make decisions and evaluate your career.
A key to successful negotiations is having a solid understanding of the situation. What are your options? What are the other person’s options?
With a solid assessment, you can push the appropriate amount. When you have more power, you can ask for more. When the tables turn, you may settle for less.
Whitmire didn’t seem to appreciate that he was in a vulnerable spot. Although he valued his job and presumably the income and prestige that came with it, he apparently didn’t understand his employer’s position—Disney might have been eager to get rid of him.
Steve Whitmire is now at a bit of a loss. In a recent interview he lamented, “This is my life’s work. The only thing I’ve done my whole adult life, and it’s just been taken away from me.”
Whitmire certainly has a problem. Spending 27 years as Kermit is a wonderful experience, but it doesn’t immediately set you up for another gig—especially when you probably can’t play or discuss that character.
The lesson is clear: always have a backup plan. If a particular job ends, what will you do? What can you do now to start down that road?
You might need to adopt Plan B at some point. Just having a Plan B strengthens your negotiating position, because when you aren’t depending on something you can push harder.
Even in the world of puppets, it is important to consider your options and make savvy moves.
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If Whitmire followed other advice you’ve given–live frugally and save regularly–at least he’ll not have serious financial worries. He’s 57 and presumably still receiving movie royalties. He just needs to humble himself and find fulfilling outlets for his obvious creativity.