Kevin Clash, the voice actor and puppeteer who made furry red Muppet Elmo famous, has resigned from "Sesame Street," Sesame Workshop said in a statement. The announcement came Tuesday, the same day that a second man alleged Clash had a sexual relationship with him when he was underage.
"Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential," the 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.' This is a sad day for 'Sesame Street.'"
In the new lawsuit, filed Tuesday in New York, Cecil Singleton says he met Clash, then 32, in a gay chat room in 1993, when Singleton was 15, and they began a relationship.
Another man made similar charges earlier this month, and later recanted, saying he was of age when the relationship began. On Nov. 12, Clash, 52, took a leave of absence from the show following allegations of the first relationship.
That first man, now 24 and a college student, reached out to Sesame Workshop in June and said he was just 16 when he had a relationship with Clash. The company said in a statement that it investigated the relationship and found the charges that the man was underage to be "unsubstantiated," but that Clash was disciplined for using poor judgment and violating company Internet usage policy.
On Nov. 13, a Pennsylvania law firm representing the first man issued a statement saying their client had recanted his claim that the relationship began when he was underage, calling it an "adult consensual relationship" and saying the man would have no further comment.
"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," Clash said last week in a statement to NBC News issued through a representative. "I had a relationship with the accuser. 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. I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
Clash has performed with Sesame Street characters since 1979, when he played Cookie Monster in the "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade." He became an official puppeteer on "Sesame Street" in 1984 and created character voices for puppets such as Baby Natasha and Dr. Nobel Price, but the marriage of Elmo and Clash's stylized high-pitched toddler voice caught fire once he began voicing the puppet in 1985. (Elmo had been a recurring puppet on the show since the early 1970s, but not a major player until Clash took over.)
Clash was the subject of a 2011 documentary, "Being Elmo," which documented his lifelong love of puppeteering.
"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," said Sesame Workshop when Clash took his earlier leave.
-- Additional reporting by Randee Dawn
- Kevin Clash's accuser recants underage accusation
- Elmo puppeteer takes leave, denies relationship with underage man
- A look at four other 'Sesame Street' controversies
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