(Adds details, quotes from company executive, statement from
By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES Nov 12 The puppeteer behind the
"Sesame Street" character Elmo has taken a leave of absence from
the children's television show to contest allegations, disputed
by the performer and producers, that he had a sexual
relationship with a 16-year-old boy, the show's production
company said on Monday.
New York-based Sesame Workshop said in a statement that its
own inquiry, including interviews with the now 23-year-old
accuser, concluded that claims of underage sexual conduct
against puppeteer Kevin Clash were unsubstantiated.
Clash, 52, the voice of Elmo for nearly three decades,
acknowledged a past relationship with his accuser but said in a
statement that the allegations against him were "false and
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried
to hide it," Clash said.
"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," he said.
He went on to say he was "taking a break" from Sesame
Workshop to deal with the situation. His publicist declined to
discuss the matter further.
The Sesame Workshop statement said Clash was "taking actions
to protect his reputation" and that Sesame Workshop has "granted
him a leave of absence to do so."
Separately, Clash was disciplined for violating company
policy "regarding Internet usage," which a Sesame Workshop
executive described as using the company's email to carry on
personal communications. The executive spoke on condition of
anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the issue
Sesame Workshop said the allegations involving Clash came to
its attention in June when the accuser first contacted the
company by email.
"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 confronted Clash, who denied the allegations.
Sesame Workshop was advised by its lawyers that "under these
circumstances, there was no obligation" to notify police, and
the company chose not to, the company executive said.
The official said the accuser and his lawyer had sought a
settlement, but the company found "absolutely no evidence that
the allegations were true."
The company went public with the matter on Monday only after
receiving a query from celebrity news outlet TMZ.com, which said
a source had furnished it with a copy of an email purportedly
sent by Clash acknowledging that the relationship in question
had begun when the accuser was 16.
"It's very curious (the accuser and his lawyer) told us they
could not provide evidence, but suddenly they had it for TMZ,"
the executive said. "We believe it's absolutely fraudulent."
It was then that Clash asked for a leave of absence, and the
company agreed, the executive said. "Kevin now really has to
devote full time and attention to defending himself," she added.
"He's hired a libel lawyer."
A lawyer for the accuser, who has not been publicly
identified, did not immediately respond to a telephone request
Clash officially joined the "Sesame Street" cast in 1984,
assuming the Elmo role that year.
The Elmo character debuted on the show in 1979. While Clash
was the third performer to animate the child-like shaggy red
monster, Sesame Workshop credits him with turning Elmo into the
international sensation he became.
For now, producers promised that Elmo would remain on the
show despite the absence of Clash, saying, "Elmo is bigger than
any one person and will continue to be an integral part of
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Will Dunham)