The actor who voiced Kermit the Frog for nearly three decades is hopping mad at Disney executives for being sacked, slamming his dismissal as a "betrayal" after bringing the puppet to life for 27 years.
In a stark war of words that spotlights troubled waters within the wildly popular franchise, 58-year-old Steve Whitmire gave an acerbic interview to The New York Times bitterly complaining about his dismissal.
The actor took on the iconic role in 1990 after Jim Henson, the Muppets founder and Kermit's original voice, died of pneumonia. He was sacked last October.
"This is my life's work," Whitmire griped to the Times. "The only thing I've done my whole adult life, and it's just been taken away from me. I just couldn't understand why we couldn't resolve this."
Whitmire said Disney gave him no warning before axing him for what he called minor reasons, such as his manner of communicating with executives.
It was not immediately clear why he waited nine months to air his grievances.
Disney, which acquired the Muppets in 2004, portrayed Whitmire as hostile to co-workers and overly difficult in contract negotiations. Members of the Henson family said they supported the dismissal, the Times also reported.
"We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years, and he consistently failed to address the feedback," Debbie McClellan, head of the Muppets Studio, was quoted as telling the Times.
"The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support."
"He played brinkmanship very aggressively in contract negotiations," Lisa Henson, president of the Jim Henson Company, told the newspaper.
She said Whitmire adamantly opposed having an understudy, was unwilling to appear on some occasions and "blackballed young performers" by refusing to appear on the show with them, the Times reported.
Neither Disney nor the Henson family were immediately reachable for comment.
Matt Vogel, a veteran Henson puppeteer, has taken over the role.