by David Mendez
Something new to file in the "destruction of innocence" category: Puppeteer of the beloved "Elmo" character on Sesame Street Kevin Clash is taking a "leave of absence" from the show in the wake of accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a then-16-year-old boy.
Sesame Workshop said puppeteer Kevin Clash denies the charges, which were first made in June by the alleged partner, who by then was 23.
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action," Sesame Workshop said in a statement issued Monday. "We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation."
The organization described the relationship as personal and "unrelated to the workplace." Its investigation found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. But it said Clash exercised "poor judgment" and was disciplined for violating company policy regarding Internet usage. It offered no details.
"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."
Don't worry, parents: According to the story, Elmo should be fine.
"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 in its statement.
"Sesame Street" is currently in production, but other puppeteers are prepared to fill in for Clash during his absence, according to a person close to the show who spoke on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to publicly discuss details about the show's production.
"Elmo will still be a part of the shows being produced," that person said.