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Ernie in a Sesame Street sketch.

Ernie retire statement

Press and statements.

In the early 1990s, following the death of Jim Henson, rumors began to appear that Sesame Streetโ€™s Ernie would be killed off to teach children about death. There were various suggestions claiming that Ernie would have died by a disease (such as leukemia) or by a traffic accident (either being hit by a car or being killed in a fatal auto accident). However, the producers had no plans to kill a Muppet character.

Rumor Sources[]

The earliest reports of Ernie being written out of the show developed immediately following Henson's death. An article from The New York Times News Service circulated to a number of American periodicals with the headline "Ernie to be retired" on May 18th. Sesame Street producer Dulcy Singer was quoted as saying, "We surely aren't going to pull someone else in to play Ernie" placing an emphasis on a library of past performances with the character, but not stating anything specifically about the character's retirement.[1] Several days later, on May 23rd, CTW's publicity department issued a statement that Ernie is "not going to retire" and clarified that the initial story was the New York Times journalist's misunderstanding of Singer's previous statement.[2]

The rumor, however, persisted. It became more widespread in 1991 when Michael Tabor, a college student in New Hampshire, took the then-small rumors too seriously. At his college graduation, all the graduates were wearing "Save Ernie" beanies and signing a petition to save the character. However, by the time he found out the "Ernie's Death" rumor was false, it already hit the papers.[3]

Due to the rising popularity of the Internet in the early 1990s, the rumors became more widespread with Newsgroups and ISP chat rooms as the catalyst for disinformation dissemination. Archived threads as far back as May 1991[4] and lasting throughout the decade kept the misstatement alive.[5] The rumors persisted enough for alt.tv.muppets to issue a statement in their FAQ.[6]

Several years later, speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to promote the Sesame Street Unpaved campus tour, Ernie successor Steve Whitmire recalled, "At first, they weren't sure if Ernie would go on. There was some talk that Ernie might be retired. But we knew Jim didn't want that to happen, so I started doing his voice for toys and records, and it worked into doing the character as well."[7] Whether Whitmire was privy to discussions with producers at Children's Television Workshop, or he was referencing the aforementioned rumors, is not specified.

Official Statements[]

โ€œErnie is alive and well, and we have no intention of anything happening to him or anyone else.โ€
โ€”Children's Television Workshop spokeswoman Carolyn Miller[8]

Sources[]

  1. โ†‘ Palm Beach Post "Ernie to be retired, but Kermit stays" via New York Times News Service, May 18, 1990
  2. โ†‘ Palm Beach Post "Muppets' Ernie staying with show" by Paul Lomartire, May 23, 1990
  3. โ†‘ Newspaper article scans
  4. โ†‘ alt.tv.muppets "Um, prepare to be saddened." May 13, 1991
  5. โ†‘ alt.tv.sesame-street "Ernie dead?!?" Feb 2, 1996
  6. โ†‘ alt.tv.muppets FAQ v1.0 "Is Ernie Dying?" December 14, 1992
  7. โ†‘ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Sesame Street Goes to Campus" by Rob Owen, September 10, 1998
  8. โ†‘ Snopes "To Tag Ernie" "Muppet Death Rumor" by David Mikkelson, January 11, 2010
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