Kevin Clash, a Sesame Street puppeteer who has for more than two decades been the voice of Elmo, has taken a leave of absence from the show amidst allegations that he had underage sex with a teenage boy.
In a statement Sesame Workshop said an investigation into the matter was underway and Clash had denied the allegations. "We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.
"Kevin [Clash] insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory,” it continued, “and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so”.
The allegations were made in June of this year when a 23-year-old man approached the company behind the hit children’s series and claimed to have had a relationship with Clash when he was 16. But after meeting the accuser and investigating the situation, Sesame Workshop found them to be unsubstantiated, though conceded Clash "exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined.”
Clash, 52, has voiced Elmo since 1985, and has won multiple Daytime Emmy awards during his 27-year stint. He recently won critical acclaim for his part in the documentary Being Elmo - a hit at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter, Clash denied his accuser’s allegations, saying: "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 had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was. I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
In their statement Sesame Workshop said that “Elmo is bigger than any one person” and confirmed that the character would continue to be an "integral part" of the show in Clash’s absence.