Kevin Clash, the man who has voiced “Sesame Street’s” beloved Elmo character for the past 27 years, has been put on leave from the show amid claims of an inappropriate relationship with a teenage boy.
In a statement released Monday morning, Sesame Workshop, the company that produces the long-running children’s educational program, explained that it received an email in June from a man, now 23, who contended that he had a sexual relationship with Clash beginning when he was 16.
The company stated that it conducted a “thorough investigation,” including two meetings with the accuser, and found his claims regarding underage sexual contact to be “unsubstantiated.” According to TMZ, Clash has admitted to a sexual relationship with the young man, but says it did not take place until after he had turned 18.
However, Sesame Workshop’s investigation “did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined.”
The statement also stressed that Clash, who insists on his innocence, “is taking actions to protect his reputation,” and that the leave of absence was granted for this reason. The puppeteer was the subject of a largely flattering documentary, “Being Elmo,” released last year.
Whatever the truth may be, Sesame Workshop appears determined to protect one of its most popular characters. “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,” Sesame Workshop said.
The scandal comes at an awkward time for “Sesame Street,” which unexpectedly became a hot-button issue during this year’s presidential campaign.