UPDATE, Tuesday evening: Kevin Clash’s accuser has recanted his claims.
No sooner does PBS’s “Sesame Street” climb out of Mitt Romney’s tumbril — after the re-election of President Obama — than comes word that the voiceover artist/puppeteer who has played Elmo on the show for nearly three decades has been put on leave, amid allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor.
Kevin Clash, a Baltimore native, has denied the allegations.
“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,” Sesame Workshop said Monday in a statement.
Sesame Workshop said that it took the allegations “very seriously,” acted immediately to meet with the accuser twice and has had “repeated communications” with the accuser.
Sesame Workshop said that after a “thorough investigation,” it “found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.”
But in a letter, the law firm that’s representing the other man accused Sesame Workshop of trying to “discredit the victim” to protect Elmo’s image, placing “greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man,” according to TMZ, which first reported the story. TMZ also reported that Clash acknowledged a relationship with the man.
Sesame Workshop insisted: “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.”
The company acknowledged that “Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage and he was disciplined.” The production house says that Clash also has “granted” a leave of absence so he could act “to protect his reputation.”
Clash, the first African American puppeteer hired to work with the late Jim Henson, was the star of last November’s feature-film documentary, “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”