Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash’s first accuser speaks

November 22, 2012

Kevin Clash, 52, the puppeteer behind furry red “Elmo” on PBS’s “Sesame Street” for nearly 30 years, resigned from the show on Tuesday after a second man filed a lawsuit accusing Clash of having a sexual relationship with an underage male.

Clash was put on leave after another man, Sheldon Stephens, 24, last week raised allegations that the pair had a sexual relationship when Stephens was 16. Clash denied the accusation.

The following day, Stephens recanted his claim, saying that his relationship with Clash was an “adult consensual relationship.”

“The Insider” on Wednesday aired the first interview with Stephens, the Post’s Lisa de Moraes reports:

Getting in just under the wire before the Thanksgiving onslaught of football viewing, “The Insider” on Wednesday night aired the first interview with the first man who claimed Kevin Clash, the former Elmo puppeteer for “Sesame Street,” had a sexual relationship with him when he was a minor.

“The whole world reacted in such a negative way, and they haven’t really gotten a chance to know who I am and to even ask the right questions to figure out what kind of person I am,” Sheldon Stephens, now 24, said on the broadcast of the CBS syndicated tabloid show that will soon be renamed “omg! Insider.”

“Rather, they reacted off of hearsay and rumor and speculation of the whole situation,” Stephens said, adding, “The biggest misconception about me is that I’m a liar, extortionist.”

On Tuesday, Baltimore-area native Cecil Singleton, 24, became the second man to file a claim against Clash. Clash then resigned from “Sesame Street,” de Moraes reports :

“I am resigning from Sesame Workshop with a very heavy heart,” Clash said Tuesday in a statement.

“I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization,” he continued. “Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately.”

Sesame Workshop said Tuesday in a statement: “None of us [at Sesame Workshop], especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. . . . Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job. . . .This is a sad day for ‘Sesame Street.’ ”

The second accuser is suing Clash, 52, in federal court, alleging that he had a sexual relationship with the puppeteer while he was a minor. Cecil Singleton seeks more than $5 million in damages, according to the Web site TMZ, which first obtained the court documents.

Has “Sesame Street” lost a little magic after these allegations — true or not — surfaced? The popular children’s TV show simply isn’t a place where such things happen, Post contributor Suzi Parker columnized:

True or untrue, Sesame Street is simply not a place where such torrid things happen.

Last Saturday marked the 43rd anniversary of Sesame’s Street premiere on PBS stations. The creative show became so popular over the decades because of its creative way of mixing puppets – or Muppets as they are called on Sesame Street – with smart pre-school learning that used laboratory and formative research.

Most of us in Generation X grew up on the Count teaching us the 1,2,3s, Oscar the Grouch showing us how uncool it was to be cantankerous and Kermit the Frog keeping harmony. The show integrated Muppets with human characters like Bob and Mr. Hooper who became fixtures in daily lives. Kids often joined the mix, mingling with the Muppets. Who hasn’t wanted to visit, if not live, on Sesame Street at some point in their lives? It was the perfect universe.

Elmo, with his cherished blue blanket in hand, entered the picture in 1981 as a magnet for toddlers. His appearance was a few years too late for Gen X but perfect timing for Millennial generation. But many Gen X parents bought their Clinton-era babies Elmo onesies, stuffed animals and an array of toys with the red creature plastered on them. Elmo, with his high-pitched voice, symbolizes the innocence of childhood – that period of time when everything in the world is new and unknown.

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