Sexual allegations against puppeteer won't dim Elmo's star power, locals say
Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice of the iconic Elmo character on "Sesame Street," is taking a leave from the show after allegations surfaced Monday that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
But since the Elmo character has done nothing wrong, according to Berkshire business owners and parents, Elmo merchandise will stay on shelves, and Elmo will continue to be a staple in local children's lives and viewed separately from the controversy against Clash.
Clash has denied the allegations of the accuser, who, at 23, contacted Sesame Workshop back in June. Those allegations have now surfaced at a time when parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are already strolling department store toy aisles for Christmas gifts ideas. Just like every Christmas season since 1996, when Tickle Me Elmos were the must-have toy, Elmo toys have a presence on shelves.
For now, the Elmo merchandise at Tom's Toys in Great Barrington will still be available.
"Elmo makes people happy," said Mary Luchi, an associate at Tom's Toys. "It'd be unfair to pull him off the shelf, regardless of what [Clash] did."
Ken Gietz, one of the owners of Where'd You Get That in Williamstown, said the small stock of Elmo merchandise is a big hit with kids. He called the discussion about reprimanding "Sesame Street" or Elmo "strange."
"Elmo hasn't done anything wrong," Gietz said. "The kids come in, grabbing and holding him -- he's beloved by kids."
Elmo's iconic giggle could be heard several aisles away at the Pittsfield Walmart Monday evening. Juan Chacon was kneeling next to one of the Elmo toys on a shelf with his 5-year-old son, Sam, pushing buttons and playing with it.
Learning of Clash's controversy, Chacon wasn't fazed and said Elmo will still have a presence in their home.
"My kids love 'Sesame Street,' " he said. "They watch it all the time. He's been around for years, generations even."
Chacon added that he still prefers the Elmo character as opposed to characters like Spongebob Squarepants, a show that occasionally features more risque humor.
The minor made the allegations against Clash back in June, who was 23 at the time.
"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 "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."
Clash, a 52-year-old divorced father with an adult daughter, went on to say that he is a gay man, and though he didn't try to hide it, he felt it was a personal matter.
Sex with a person under 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is at least 21. It was unclear where the relationship took place, and there is no record of any criminal charge against Clash in the state.
"I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation," Clash said in the statement.
Neither Clash nor Sesame Workshop indicated how long his absence might be. The show is currently in production and other puppeteers are prepared to fill in for Clash during his absence, an anonymous source close to the show told The Associated Press.
"Elmo will still be a part of the shows being produced," that person said.
Clash may not be as recognizable of an icon as his puppet partner Elmo, but he's still made a name for himself. He wrote a 2006 autobiography titled "My Life as a Furry Red Monster." He was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2011 documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey."
"The kids aren't going to know until they point him out and say 'this guy did that,' " Chacon said.
Clash started doing the voice and movements for Elmo in 1984, when he was asked to come up with a voice for the furry red Sesame Street occupant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
To reach Adam Poulisse:
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.