Elmo puppeteer remains on leave; allegations of improper relationship recanted

By Dru Sefton

Following this week’s  media scandal over allegations that were aggressively rebutted and later recanted, award-winning Sesame Street puppeteer Kevin Clash remains on a leave from his role as Elmo, one of the show’s most beloved characters.

Clash and Elmo. (Photo: PBS)

An accusation that Clash had an inappropriate relationship with an underage boy, published online early Nov. 12 by gossip news site TMZ, prompted Clash to request leave so that he could defend his reputation. Sesame Workshop, which looked into the allegations after learning of them in June, granted the leave and issued a statement:

“We . . . conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated . . . . Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation,” the Workshop said.

“Elmo is bigger than any one person,” the Workshop statement noted, “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.”

Clash, 52, acknowledged the relationship, but said that it had been between two consenting adults. His accuser, who is 23 years old, alleged that he had been 16 at the time of the romance. “It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not,” Clash told TMZ on Nov. 12.

In its internal investigation, the Workshop found that Clash’s relationship with the young man was personal and “unrelated to the workplace,” its Nov. 12 statement said. Clash had “exercised poor judgment” and was disciplined for violating company policy regarding Internet usage.

The next day, the young man announced through his attorneys that he had withdrawn his allegations. The statement said the accuser “wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.”

“I am relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest,” Clash told the New York Times through a spokesman. “I will not discuss it further.”

Sesame Workshop also issued a brief statement: “We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a close, and we are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode.” Jodi Lefkowitz, Workshop spokesperson, declined to say when Clash will return to work.

Clash had been scheduled to speak Nov. 28 at Georgia State University, but the event has been postponed “by mutual agreement,” according to Andrea Anne Jones, university spokesperson.

Clash is one of Sesame Street’s most acclaimed and senior puppeeters. He has won  10 Daytime Emmy Awards for his portrayals of Hoots the Owl and the joyful red monster that has become one of the Workshop’s most valuable properties. Clash also serves as a senior creative advisor, senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain; he oversees casting of all Muppet roles.

Clash’s role as Elmo was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, and his 2006 autobiography My Life as a Furry Red Monster: What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love and Laughing Out Loud.

Elmo was introduced as a Sesame Street character in 1979 and rose to stardom after Clash became the third puppeteer to perform the role in 1985.

Questions, comments, tips? sefton@current.org
This post was adapted and published in Current Newspaper on Nov. 19. A subsequent update was published online Nov. 20.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT