Voice actor Kevin Clash arrives with the puppet Elmo for
the 2010 Peabody Award ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in
New York in this file photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files
The puppeteer and voice behind the character Elmo on
"Sesame Street" has taken a leave of absence from the
children's television show following allegations that he had a
sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, producers say.
New York-based Sesame Workshop said in a statement that its
own inquiry concluded that the claim of underage sexual
conduct was unsubstantiated, and that puppeteer Kevin Clash
has denied any wrongdoing and called the allegation "false
But the company said Clash, 52, was disciplined after an
internal investigation showed he "exercised poor judgment and
violated company policy regarding Internet usage."
The Sesame Workshop statement said the puppeteer was "taking
actions to protect his reputation" and that Sesame Workshop
has "granted him a leave of absence to do so."
Neither Clash nor his personal publicist was immediately
available for comment.
CNN quoted a statement from Clash acknowledging a
relationship with his accuser but denying he had sexual
contact with a minor.
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried
to hide it," it quoted him as saying. "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."
The statement went on to say, "I'm taking a break from Sesame
Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
Sesame Workshop said the matter came to its attention when it
received a communication in June from accuser, now aged 23,
alleging that he had a relationship with Clash beginning when
he was 16 years old.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate
action," the company said, adding that it met with the
accuser twice and had "repeated communications with him." The
company said it also discussed the matter with Clash, who
denied the allegations.
A spokeswoman for the show said she did not know whether law
enforcement authorities were looking into the allegations.
Clash officially joined the "Sesame Street" cast in 1984,
assuming the Elmo role that year.
Elmo's character had debuted on the show in 1979, and though
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 promised that Elmo would 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'."