'Sesame Street' vet quits amid sex allegations

Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash has resigned from “Sesame Street” in the wake of allegations that he had sexual relationships with underage boys.

“Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing, and I cannot allow it to go on any longer,” Clash said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately.”

Clash took a leave of absence from the tyke skein last week after Sheldon Stephens, the first accuser, stepped forward claiming he had sex with Clash when he was 16. Clash denied all allegations.

Clash seemed to be relatively out of the woods when Stephens, now 23, recanted his accusation late last week. Over the weekend, however, Stephens claimed he was pressured into recanting and would forfeit his $125,000 settlement in order to back out of the agreement.

A second accuser stepped forward Tuesday, claiming that he, too, had a sexual relationship with the Elmo puppeteer when he was a teen. Clash resigned from his “Sesame Street” post immediately following the new lawsuit.

Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential,” said the company in a statement on Tuesday. “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 wants, 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.’”

Clash, who began working with puppets at a young age, rose to fame after shaping the voice and persona of Elmo. The iconic red puppet had been used on “Sesame Street” in the ’70s and early ’80s with a gruffer voice and never took off until Clash shaped Elmo into a gentle, childlike character. Elmo then became a global sensation, spawning hit toy lines and films and doing TV guest spots.

Clash’s experience working with the Elmo puppet was chronicled in 2011 feature-length doc “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

Clash described himself Tuesday as having a “heavy heart.” “I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization,” he added.

Sesame Workshop did not comment on the intellectual property rights of Elmo. PBS did not have a statement.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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