Elmo Puppeteer Kevin Clash Leaves “Sesame Street,” Denies Sexual Relationship With Teenage Boy

Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street‘s beloved Elmo for more than 25 years, has taken a leave of absence from the show following allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male.

A spokesperson for Sesame Workshop said that a 23-year-old man reached out in June, claiming he had an intimate relationship with Clash that began seven years prior:

“We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action. We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, our investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding Internet usage and he was disciplined.”

It’s not clear when Clash will return, but Sesame Workshop indicated Elmo will carry on nonetheless: “Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of ‘Sesame Street’ to engage, educate and inspire children around the world.”

Clash told TMZ that he did have a relationship with the accuser but that it was between two consenting adults. “I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not.”

We’re so bummed we’re not gonna make the obvious Tickle Me Elmo joke.