Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice of muppet Elmo, is denying recent allegations that he had been involved in a relationship with a 16-year-old boy several years ago and is taking a leave of absence from his flagship children's series "Sesame Street" in order to take actions "to protect his reputation."
The 52-year-old has portrayed the furry red character, who has also been featured in films and on other shows and also spurred the popular "Tickle Me Elmo" doll, since 1984. He has not been charged with a crime.
Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," said in a statement that the company had in June "received a communication from a then-23-year-old man who alleged that he had a relationship beginning when he was 16 years old" with Clash.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action," said the statement, which was posted on the group's website on Monday. "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."
"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," Sesame Workshop said, adding that "Kevin insists that the allegation of underage conduct is false and defamatory and he is taking actions to protect his reputation. We have granted him a leave of absence to do so."
The Associated Press quoted Clash as telling the website TMZ: "I had a relationship with [the accuser]. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not."
Clash, who has a young adult daughter with his ex-wife, also provided the voice of Baby Sinclair from the 1990s series "Dinosaurs," Splinter from the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies and several characters, including a Fiery and Ambrosius the sheepdog, in the 1987 cult film "Labyrinth." Clash has won eight Daytime Emmys for his role of Elmo on "Sesame Street."
Elmo is one of the most popular children's characters of all time. The character was involved in a minor controversy in 2010, when he starred in an online Sesame Street music video with Katy Perry. The segment did not air on the TV show due to complaints over the singer's scantily clad look.
Sesame Workshop said in its statement that "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."