NEW YORK CITY — The puppeteer who also voices Elmo, the beloved children’s character from Sesame Street, has taken a leave of absence from the show following accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
In June, an unidentified 23-year-old man first notified officials at the Sesame Workshop, which runs the show, that he and Kevin Clash, 52, began a relationship seven years ago, when the accuser was a minor, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
“We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action,” the statement read. “We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.”
Clash has acknowledged that he had a relationship with the young man, but said it didn’t start until the man was an adult, TMZ reported.
It’s unclear at this point when Clash met the young man and when their relationship turned sexual.
Clash has since taken a leave of absence to “take action to protect his reputation,” the statement said without elaborating.
Officials at the Sesame Workshop met with both Clash and his accuser once the allegation surfaced.
The 23-year-old man reportedly felt that Sesame officials were trying to silence him so he hired Andreozzi and Associates, the firm that represented Jerry Sandusky’s rape victims, according to TMZ.
But a person who answered the phone at Andreozzi and Associates said Monday, “the report is inaccurate,” and declined further comment.
The workshop criticized Clash for using “poor judgment” and said he had been reprimanded for violating its Internet usage policy.
“I had a relationship with [the accuser],” Clash told TMZ. “It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not."
Clash was the subject of the 2011 documentary “Being Elmo: a Puppeteer’s Journey,” which explored his meteoric rise to stardom and his struggles to maintain a relationship with his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife outside Baltimore.