By DAVID MCCORMACK
PUBLISHED: 00:00 EST, 14 November 2012 | UPDATED: 17:36 EST, 20 November 2012
- Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, 52, has resigned amid growing allegations of sex with underage boys
- Male model Sheldon Stephens, 23, last week claimed he had sex with Clash when he was 16
- He retracted his story after Clash agreed to pay him $125,000, but has since wanted to undo the settlement ‘to restore his name’
- A second lawsuit has been filed by Cecil Singleton, who claims he encountered Clash when he was 15
- Sesame Workshop described the controversy as ‘a distraction that none of us want’
- The scandal doesn’t mean the end for the popular puppet – ‘Elmo is bigger than any one person,’ the company said
Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, 52, has resigned from Sesame Street amid growing allegations that he had sex with underage boys.
Last week Sheldon Stephens, 23, accused Clash of having sex with him when he was a teenager, a charge Clash denied. A day later, Stephens recanted his charge after a $125,000 settlement had been struck with Clash’s lawyers.
A second lawsuit against Clash was filed Tuesday. Cecil Singleton, claims he encountered Clash on a gay phone chat line in 1993 when he was 15 and Clash was 32. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $5 million.
Scandal on Sesame Street: Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, 52, has resigned amid growing accusations that he slept with underage boys
Cecil Singleton claims Clash groomed him before they had underage sex, he is seeking $5million in
In the lawsuit filed in New York City’s federal court, Singleton alleges Clash groomed him by ‘taking him to nice dinners and giving him money.’
In its statement Tuesday, Sesame Workshop said ‘the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want,’ leading Clash to conclude ‘that he can no longer be effective in his job.’
‘This is a sad day for Sesame Street,’ the company said.
In a statement of his own, Clash said ‘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.’
Clash, who had been on Sesame Street for 28 years, created the high-pitched voice and child-like persona for Elmo, a furry, red Muppet that became one of the most popular characters on the show and one of the company’s most lucrative properties. Sesame Workshop produces Sesame Street in New York.
Since the scandal broke, Clash had been on a leave of absence from the Sesame Workshop which produces the popular children’s TV show on PBS.
Sesame Workshop has insisted the scandal does not mean the end of Elmo. ‘Elmo is bigger than any one person,’ the company said.
Resignation: Clash has left the popular children’s show but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for Elmo
Sheldon Stephens has claimed he was pressured into accepting a $125,000 settlement to retract his initial allegations
The resignation follows reports that Stephens, 23, wanted to undo the $125,000 settlement he had struck with Clash’s lawyers after making his original underage sex allegation.
He has apparently met with lawyers in Los Angeles and told them he was pressured into recanting his allegation and insists he is telling the truth about having sex with Clash when he was 16, reports TMZ.
Stephens, a struggling actor/model, told lawyers he was willing to forfeit the $125,000 settlement to restore his name.
Under the terms of the current settlement, if Stephens is asked by anyone about his relationship with Clash, he must repeat only the following statement: ‘He [Stephens] wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.’
Accusations that Clash, who is openly gay, engaged in an underage sexual affair set off a media firestorm after they were revealed last Monday. Within 24 hours of the story breaking, Stephens recanted his claim.
After Stephens had withdrawn his allegations, Clash told the New York Times through a spokesman: ‘I am relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest. I will not discuss it further.’
In addition to his marquee role as Elmo, Clash had served as the show’s senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain. He won 23 daytime Emmy awards and one prime-time Emmy.
In 2006, he published an autobiography, My Life as a Furry Red Monster, and was the subject of the 2011 documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.
Though it remained unclear who might take over for Clash performing as Elmo, other Sesame Street puppeteers have been trained to serve as his stand-in, Sesame Workshop said.
Clash has been Elmo’s puppeteer for two decades, performing on the show as well as for PBS specials, DVD releases and TV movies, while earning nine Daytime Emmy Awards.
Clash exchanged messages with Stephens in 2010 in which he apologized for constantly talking about sex and promised to make all of his ‘dreams come true.’
The puppeteer told the man almost 30 years his junior that he loved him and offered to buy him a ticket to visit him in New York.
Iconic: Clash created the voice and persona for Elmo, one of Sesame Street’s most popular characters
The Sesame Street stalwart, who had worked on the show since the mid-80s, admits to having a sexual relationship with the accuser, but insists it only took place after the younger man was an adult.
In emails sent well after the accuser turned 18, Clash wrote: ‘I’m sorry that I keep talking about sex with you, its driving me insane.’
He added: ‘I want you to know that I love you and I will never hurt you. I’m here to protect you and make sure your dreams come true…
‘I’ll have my assistant book a ticket for you to come to NY and we can talk about this in person.’
Clash said the relationship was between two consenting adults and that he was deeply saddened that the younger man was ‘trying to make it into something it was not.’
The accuser reportedly felt he was being silenced after his initial meeting with Sesame Street lawyers.
In the spotlight: The Sesame Workshop called the controversy ‘a distraction that none of us want’
In August, the accuser’s lawyers wrote a letter to Sesame Street accusing the program of trying to ‘discredit the victim in order to protect its employee and the image of one of its most valuable characters.’
The letter also claimed the show’s attitude ‘places a greater value on a puppet than the well being of a young man.’
Sesame Workshop officials, however, said they found the the allegation of underage sex was unsubstantiated after a thorough investigation.
They say that rather than trying to hush up the accuser, they asked for evidence of his allegations, which was not received.
Sesame Street disciplined Clash for inappropriate use of company email after they found his messages to Stephens but they reportedly did not indicate an illegal sexual relationship.
They said the divorced father of a 19-year-old girl had shown poor judgment, but originally claimed his leave of absence would allow him to defend his reputation in the wake of the damaging allegations.