Longtime Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned Tuesday from "Sesame Street" as a new accuser came forward to file a lawsuit claiming that Clash engaged in sexual behaviour with him while he was underage.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York by 24-year-old college student Cecil Singleton accuses Clash of engaging in the behaviour with him over a two-week period. Singleton says they met on a gay chat line.
At a news conference, Singleton said he had no idea at the time what Clash did for a living.
A statement by Sesame Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street," said "the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want," leading Clash to conclude "that he can no longer be effective in his job."
"This is a sad day for Sesame Street," the company said.
In a statement of his own, Clash said "personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing, and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."
Sesame Workshop had no comment on the lawsuit. Clash did not address the new allegation.
Singleton's lawyer, Jeff Herman, said he had been contacted by two other potential victims and expected additional legal action. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $5 million.
Clash, who had been on "Sesame Street" for 28 years, created the high-pitched voice and child-like persona for Elmo, a furry, red Muppet that became one of the show's most popular characters and one of the company's most lucrative properties.
Clash's exit followed a tumultuous week that began on Nov. 12 with a statement from the company that Clash had requested a leave of absence following the charge by a man in his early 20s that he had had a relationship with Clash when he was 16.
Clash denied the charge from that man, who has not been publicly identified, calling it "false and defamatory."
Clash, the 52-year-old divorced father of a grown daughter, acknowledged that he is gay in that statement.
Sesame Workshop said an investigation found the charge of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.
The next day, Clash's accuser recanted his charge, describing his sexual relationship with Clash as adult and consensual. Clash responded that he was "relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest."
It was in the mid-1980s that Clash, a young puppeteer at "Sesame Street," was assigned a little-used puppet now known as Elmo and turned him into a star.