Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice of Elmo, has resigned from "Sesame Street," more than a week after a man accused him of having been involved in a sexual relationship with him when he was 16 years old.
A lawsuit by a second accuser was filed on Tuesday, November 20, the Associated Press reported.
"I am resigning from Sesame Workshop with a very heavy heart," Clash, 52, said in a statement. "I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization. Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work 'Sesame Street' is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."
The puppeteer had last week denied the first person's accusation, saying relations between himself and the man, who is now 24, were consensual and occurred when the person was an adult. Clash also took a leave of absence to deal with the matter. The man then recanted, echoing the puppeteer's sentiment in a statement through his lawyers.
"Sesame Street" production company Sesame Workshop, which had originally said it had found the first allegation of underage conduct to be "unsubstantiated," announced on Tuesday via its website that Clash had quit the popular children's show.
"Sesame Workshop's mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential," the group's statement read. "Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization."
"Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from 'Sesame Street,' it said, adding: 'This is a sad day for Sesame Street.'"
The second lawsuit, filed at a New York federal court, accuses Clash of sexual abuse and claims that a person named Cecil Singleton, who is currently an adult, was persuaded by Clash to meet for sexual encounters when he was 15 years old, the Associated Press reported. He is suing for at least $5 million. Clash has not commented about the second allegation.
Following the publication of the first man's accusation, the puppeteer, who has a young adult daughter with his ex-wife, came out publicly as a gay man, the New York Times reported.
"I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter," the outlet quoted him as saying.
A Sesame Workshop executive told the New York Times that Clash had helped find other puppeteers to play Elmo in his absence and that his resignation will likely not affect production of "Sesame Street."
The actor has portrayed the furry red character Elmo, who has also been featured in films and on other shows and also spurred the popular "Tickle Me Elmo" doll, since 1984. He won eight individual Daytime Emmys for the role.
Clash has 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 Ambrosias the sheepdog, in the 1987 cult film "Labyrinth."