Sesame Street‘s signature character Elmo will probably soon sound a little different. Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who has performed as the beloved red monster for the past 27 years, has been put on leave by Sesame Street producer Sesame Workshop over allegations he had a sexual relationship with a teen boy. The move comes on the heels of Sesame Street becoming a symbol of the campaign to defund PBS following Mitt Romney’s Big Bird comments during the first Presidential debate.
In a statement released this morning, Sesame Workshop said it was approached by a 23-year-old man in June who alleged that he had had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old with Kevin Clash. The company met with the accuser twice and met with Clash, who denied the accusation. “We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated,” the company said. Sesame Workshop said that it has granted Clash a leave of absence to “protect his reputation” against what Clash describes as “false and defamatory” accusations.
Clash is only the fourth puppeteer to play Elmo and the one most closely identified with the character having performed him for almost three decades, far longer than anyone else. “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.