Kevin Clash, the puppeteer best known for giving life to Elmo, has taken a leave of absence from Sesame Street, following allegations by a 23-year-old man that he engaged in a sexual relationship with Clash that began seven years ago when he was only 16. The claim remains unsubstantiated, and no charges have been filed against Mr. Clash, but the Sesame Workshop performer is taking time off to clear his name. He maintains that their relationship was consensual and began after the young man had already turned 18.
The 52-year-old Clash tells TMZ, “I had a relationship with [the accuser]. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not.” He then added to The New York Times, “I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter…I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation.”
The leave of absence began yesterday, and other performers are expected to take his place as the performer and voice of Elmo, so that production of Sesame Street is not affected. A spokesman for the show has announced that they first became aware of the allegations when they were contacted by the young man in question. Representatives for the production company met with him and found his charges to be unsubstantiated, which prompted him to seek the legal counsel of Andreozzi and Associates, a firm that represented one of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky child rape case. Sesame Workshop did discipline Clash for another matter, however. In a statement, a spokesperson for the studio said, “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.”
Sesame Workshop also added, “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.”
Hollywood.com has reached out to Clash’s reps but has not yet received further comment.
[Photo Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/FilmMagic]