U.S. — The puppeteer who provides the voice of Elmo is on a leave of absence from Sesame Street after denying he had an inappropriate relationship with a teenage boy.
Sesame Street Workshop says it found the allegation against Kevin Clash "unsubstantiated," and granted him leave as he takes "actions to protect his reputation."
In June, the workshop heard from a 23-year-old man who claimed that he had "a relationship" with Clash beginning when he was 16 years old, the workshop said in a statement posted on its website Monday.
The statement did not use the word "sexual."
"We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. 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," the Sesame Street Workshop statement said.
"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.
"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."
"I am a gay man," Clash said in a statement issued Monday. "I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.
"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, 52, is widely beloved as the high-pitched voice of the iconic furry red Elmo, whom he's been playing since 1984, winning Emmy Awards along the way.
He was the third Muppeteer to take on the role.
Clash is also Sesame Street's senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain, the Sesame Street Workshop says on its website.
A documentary, "Being Elmo," focused on his story.
In an interview previously posted on the website of NYC Dads, an initiative of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he spoke about how he worked to spend time with his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife outside of Baltimore.