Kevin Clash, the Sesame Street puppeteer who voices Elmo, has taken a leave of absence from the show amid allegations he had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy.
The accusations were made in June by a 23-year-old man who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Clash when he was 16. In a statement issued Monday, Sesame Workshop said an investigation into the matter “found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated” and that Clash was granted a leave of absence as he’s “taking actions to protect his reputation.”
A Sesame Street rep did not immediately respond to The Hollywood Reporter‘s request for further details, including when he is expected to return to the show.
Clash, 52, has voiced Elmo since 1985, launching the sweet-natured, red-furred puppet — who’d been a recurring character since the ’70s — to greater level of fame alongside Big Bird and Cookie Monster. He has won 23 Daytime Emmys for his Sesame Street work.
Last year, Clash starred in the documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which debuted to positive reviews in competition at the Sundance Film Festival. At the time, THR called Clash an “exceptional performer” and the film “a rare documentary that will connect across generations and cultures to delight viewers worldwide for years to come.”
Clash further denied his accuser’s allegations in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, 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.”
The Sesame Workshop statement reads:
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.
Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory, and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so.
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.