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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Clash’

#PRWin? Elmo’s Puppeteer Kevin Clash Cleared of ‘Tickling’ Charges

kevin-clash-2-300The man whose voice became the clarion call of Sesame Street every time he laughed and sang “Elmo’s World” can finally mutter a sigh of relief.

Kevin Clash, 53, the man behind the furry faced myth, was officially cleared of sexual abuse charges in a U.S. Court of Appeals.

In 2012, Clash was accused of molesting multiple young men who asked him how to get to Sesame Street. Those allegations cause Clash to lose a job and children everywhere to lose a voice that been with them since infancy.

It was tragic news. Two years later (sad how some justice just isn’t that swift), he has been cleared of charges, but will the stain be cleared of his reputation?

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Meet the ‘Sesame Street’ Crisis Response Team

Sesame Street courtesy of The Sesame WorkshopThis week’s New York Magazine includes an intriguing profile of a crisis response team that’s been in the news quite a bit lately: the PR group representing Sesame Street puppetmasters The Sesame Workshop. The profile seems even more relevant given the ongoing Elmo-related drama that culminated in puppeteer Kevin Clash’s abrupt resignation this morning.

Protecting the interests of Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the press-averse Snuffleupagus seems like a fairly low-risk job, but Sesame Street deals with more PR challenges than you’d expect–even if we leave out the Elmo kerfuffle. Day-to-day crises range from longtime fans’ “sellout” accusations to a multitude of unlicensed usage cases involving trademarked and extremely valuable characters.

This year, for example, the team had to do its best to “clamp down on” a glut of sexy Big Bird costumes—and we didn’t even mention the Change.org petition demanding that the company force Bert and Ernie out of the closet. Must have been hard to write a serious press release about that one.

Ironically or not (depending on your political sensibilities), the team’s leader is whip-smart Sherrie Rollins Westin, a veteran of the George H.W. Bush White House and former wife of longtime Republican strategist Ed Rollins (who briefly managed Michele Bachman‘s amazing 2012 presidential campaign). The team also includes former Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim and Myung Kang-Huneke, who previously represented the New York City Housing Authority (an organization that’s perpetually defending itself against lawsuits). In other words, these guys do NOT mess around.

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Elmo Resigns After Second Accuser Files Suit

Kevin Clash with ElmoSeems like we just can’t quite keep up with the ongoing PR crisis surrounding puppeteer Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo. After a man accused Clash of having an “improper relationship” with him when he was 16, recanted and settled, then tried to re-file his claim, today brings news of a second man looking to take Clash to court.

According to TMZ, an unnamed accuser in his 30′s filed a lawsuit against Clash today. He claims that the two met on a gay phone chat line when he was 15 and Clash was 32–and that they maintained an ongoing relationship.

And now for the predictably gory details: This latest accuser claims that, although the relationship began nearly 20 years ago, he did not take legal action until now because he “did not become aware that he had suffered adverse psychological and emotional effects from Kevin Clash’s sexual acts and conduct until 2012″. The lawsuit even veers into character assassination, citing Clash’s “depraved sexual interests” and claiming that he used his status as an entertainer to “[prey] on teenage boys.”

Oh, and this guy’s legal team learned something from the first settlement: their filing included a demand for “more than $5 million.”

We wish we had no more to report on this unfortunate story. Even if the latest case ends with a settlement or a dismissal of all charges, the legal saga will continue to be a major headache for the Sesame Street brand.

UPDATE: Sesame Workshop just released a statement announcing that Kevin Clash has resigned from Sesame Street in the wake of these newest allegations, citing the puppeteer’s conclusion that “he can no longer be effective in his job”. A sad day for the whole team.

UPDATE: Elmo Accuser Recants

Elmo Sesame StreetLooks like Elmo should be back to work soon after all: Only a day after beginning procedures to charge puppeteer Kevin Clash with having improper relations with a minor, his accuser has recanted and agreed to abandon the allegations altogether.

According to the law firm that planned to represent the man (who shall remain unnamed), “he wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship. He will have no further comment on the matter.”

Of course Clash expressed relief through a spokesman, and Sesame Workshop responded in turn, stating, “We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a close, and we are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode”. It would seem that the organization’s reported investigation into the matter was not simply an attempt to “discredit” the accuser after all.

Sometimes the threat of a lawsuit is just that–and nothing more.

Will Elmo Sex Case Damage the Sesame Street Brand?

Kevin Clash and Elmo the Sesame Street PuppetThis week brings some unfortunate news from Sesame Street: Big Bird may be fine, but the future looks uncertain for Elmo. Puppeteer Kevin Clash, the voice behind the furry red monster and the subject of the award-winning 2011 documentary Being Elmo, stands accused of improper sexual conduct with a minor. The Sesame Workshop granted him an open-ended leave of absence to resolve related legal matters.

Clash, who is openly gay, acknowledges having a relationship with the man, now 23. The two differ, however, on the accuser’s age at the time of the affair. In a statement, Clash said that “I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults, and I am deeply saddened that he is characterizing it as something other than what it was”. The accuser has not denied the consensual nature of the relationship; he and his lawyer simply assert that it began while he was only 16 years old.

The Sesame Workshop first learned of the accusations several months ago and conducted an independent investigation. Yesterday a spokesman stated, “We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation. We also conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated”. The accuser’s law firm sees things differently, claiming that Sesame Workshop aims to “discredit the victim” in order to preserve the Elmo brand.

Clash’s publicist declined to comment further, and we can certainly see why: In order to clear his name, the puppeteer has no real choice but to let the legal case run its course. The story will almost certainly taint the public’s perception of Mr. Clash even if he’s vindicated–and it will certainly prove a big impediment to an otherwise charmed career.

But will it damage the Elmo character or the larger Sesame Street brand?