The voice of one of Sesame Street’s most famous characters has resigned.

Kevin Clash, 52, the puppeteer for Elmo, had been on a leave of absence after a 23-year-old man accused Clash of engaging in a sexual relationship with him when he was 16 years old.  

In a statement Sesame Workshop said claims against Clash had become a distraction and that it was a sad day for the company.

New York-based Sesame Workshop had concluded through their own inquiry that the claims of underage sexual conduct against Clash were unsubstantiated.

Clash, 52, the voice of Elmo for nearly three decades, had acknowledged a past relationship with his accuser but said the pair were both consenting adults at the time. He termed the allegations “false and defamatory.”

Days after the claims were made the 23-year-old recanted his story, however gossip website TMZ reported the man was forced to change his story in exchange for a US$125,000 settlement.    

As Clash steps down, another young man has came forward with accusations of statutory rape via a civil lawsuit filed in federal court in New York. A 30-year-old man named Cecil Singleton claims he met Clash on a gay phone chat line in 1993 when he was just 15 years old and Clash was 32. It added that on numerous occasions over a period of years Clash engaged in sexual activity with Singleton.

Singleton is seeking $5 million in damages.

The Elmo character debuted on Sesame Street in 1979.
While Clash was the third performer to animate the child-like shaggy red monster, Sesame Workshop credits him with turning Elmo into the international sensation he became.