Kevin Clash, the voice and puppeteer behind Elmo on "Sesame Street," has taken a leave from the show after being accused of allegedly having a sexual relationship with an underage boy.
According to a statement from Sesame Workshop, 52-year-old Clash had sexual relations seven years ago, which came to light in June.
"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 statement read. "We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage and he was disciplined."
Sesame Workshop granted Clash, who has been Elmo's puppeteer since 1984, a leave of absence "to protect his reputation."
Meanwhile, Clash insisted the claims are false and the underage allegation is defamatory.
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"I had a relationship with [the accuser]. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not," Clash said in a statement to TMZ.
According to TMZ, the accuser first met with Sesame Workshop in June, and "felt Sesame Workshop's lawyers were trying to muzzle him," prompting him to hire Andreozzi and Associates, the same firm that represented one of the victims of Jerry Sandusky. The lawyers said Sesame Workshop was attempting to "discredit the victim in order to protect its employee and the image of one of its most valuable characters. This approach places a greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man."
Sesame Workshop, however, said the claim was merely unsubstantiated after the accuser never produced evidence for the claim. The Sesame Workshop added information about a suspicious email from Clash that acknowledges the affair when the accuser was underage, something they believe to be fake.
Clash is the third puppeteer to do the voice of Elmo since the character first emerged in 1979. After 28 years as Elmo's puppeteer, Clash won numerous Emmy awards. A 2011 documentary, "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey," highlighted Clash's influence on Elmo's current stardom and popularity.
Fans of "Sesame Street" should not worry about Elmo's place on the show. Sesame Workshop told TMZ the puppet is doing just fine.
"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."