Kevin Clash, the voice and puppeteer of Elmo on “Sesame Street” for more than two decades, took a leave of absence from the show on Sunday after an unsubstantiated report that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy. The news threw one of the most trusted preschool properties into turmoil as the show’s nonprofit producer, Sesame Workshop, moved quickly to protect the 43-year-old brand, estimated by Forbes to be worth more than $500 million.
Elmo is one of the PBS program’s most famous Muppets, with his own 11-minute segment called “Elmo the Musical” in each daily show. He also has been featured in popular toys, including Tickle Me Elmo.
Officials at Sesame Workshop said that they thoroughly investigated the accusation, using outside investigators, over several months and believe it to be false, noting that the accuser did not produce any evidence. Mr. Clash’s leave was granted Sunday after it became clear that the Web site TMZ was planning to run an article. It was given so that Mr. Clash, 52, could “deal with this false and defamatory allegation,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement.