NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The puppeteer who performs as Elmo on “Sesame Street” is taking a leave of absence from the popular kids’ show following allegations that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
Sesame Workshop says puppeteer Kevin Clash denies the charges, which were first made in June by the alleged partner, who by then was 23.
In a statement issued Monday, Sesame Workshop said its investigation found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.
“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,” Sesame Workshop said. “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,” said the statement. “We have granted him a leave of absence to do so.”
No duration for the leave was specified.
“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.
Clash also issued his own statement.
“I had a relationship with the accuser,” Clash said in the statement. “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.”
Clash, the divorced father of a grown daughter, added, “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 am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation,” he said.
Clash, 52, has been with “Sesame Street” since 1983, and has voiced and puppeteered Elmo since 1985, when the late Richard Hunt tossed the puppet to Clash and asked what he could do with it.
Clash also performs Hoots the Owl, and has portrayed the characters Dr. Nobel Price and Baby Natasha. He also made an on-camera appearance on one occasion as a grown up version of Gordon and Susan’s son, Miles, in a flash-forward scene during the 1980s.
Prior to his work on Sesame Street, he appeared on camera and puppeteered a boy named Artie on “Captain Kangaroo.” He also voiced Baby Sinclair on the early 1990s animated sitcom “Dinosaurs.”
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