Kevin Clash, the voice and puppeteer behind the loveable Elmo character on the long running kiddie show “Sesame Street,” has taken a leave of absence from the show after explosive allegations were made against him.
Clash has been the voice of Elmo (and the ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ dolls) for more than two decades, but Sunday, after an unsubstantiated report that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, he voluntarily stepped away from his job.
The news sent shock waves through the show’s nonprofit producer, Sesame Workshop, who moved quickly to protect their 43 year-old brand (estimated by Forbes to be worth more than $500 million).
Read an official statement from the PBS program + additional details regarding the allegations below…
In June of this year, Sesame Workshop received a communication from a then 23 year old man who alleged that he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with Kevin Clash, a Sesame Workshop puppeteer who performs as Elmo.
We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined.
Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so.
Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of Sesame Street to engage, educate and inspire children around the world, as it has for 40 years.
Elmo is one of the PBS program’s most famous Muppets, with his own 11-minute segment called “Elmo the Musical” in each daily show. He also has been featured in popular toys, including Tickle Me Elmo.
In a statement, Mr. Clash, 52, admitted to having had a relationship with the accuser, who is now 24, and stated that it was merely a relationship “between two consenting adults.” He also said that the allegations against him were “false and defamatory.”
“I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it.”
“I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults, and I am deeply saddened that he is characterizing it as something other than what it was,” he said.
He went on to say he was “taking a break” from Sesame Workshop to deal with the situation. His publicist declined to discuss the matter further.
Clash officially joined the “Sesame Street” cast as Elmo in 1984, assuming the Elmo role that year.
The Elmo character debuted on the show in 1979. While Clash was the third performer to animate the child-like shaggy red monster, Sesame Workshop credits him with turning Elmo into the international sensation he became.
For now, producers have promised that Elmo will remain on the show despite the absence of Clash, saying, “Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of ‘Sesame Street.’”
What do you think of these explosive allegations against one of America’s favorite Sesame Street characters?