Elmo puppeteer takes leave after accusation of illicit relationship
There's a scandal on Sesame Street, as the puppeteer and voice behind Elmo has taken a leave of absence from the show after he was accused of once having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy, the show said Monday.
Puppeteer Kevin Clash -- who has portrayed Elmo since joining the show in 1984 -- denied any wrongdoing and called the allegation "false and defamatory," though he admitted to having a "consensual" relationship with the accuser. He has taken a leave of absence to "protect his reputation."
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it," Clash said in a statement to CNN. "I had a relationship with the accuser, it was between two consenting adults, and I am deeply saddened that he is characterizing it as something other than what it was."
Clash added: "I'm taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
Sesame Workshop said its own probe into the allegation found that the claim was meritless, but that Clash, 52, was disciplined after the investigation showed he "exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage."
Sesame Workshop's statement said Clash was "taking actions to protect his reputation" and it "granted him a leave of absence to do so."
Sesame Workshop said the accuser, now 23, sent the show an email with the accusation in June, charging that he had a relationship with Clash beginning when he was 16 years old.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action," the company said, adding that it met with the accuser twice and had "repeated communications with him." The company said it also discussed the matter with Clash, who denied the allegations.
A spokeswoman for the show said she did not know whether law enforcement authorities were looking into the allegations.
For now, producers promised that Elmo would stay on the show despite the absence of Clash.
"Elmo is bigger than any one person,'" they said.