By Alan Duke
(CNN) — Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who provides the voice of Elmo on “Sesame Street,” resigned Tuesday after a man filed a lawsuit accusing him of conducting an underage sexual relationship.
The lawsuit was filed in a New York court Tuesday, a week after another accuser recanted his claim that Clash, now 52, engaged him in underage sex.
“I am resigning from Sesame Workshop with a very heavy heart,” Clash said in a written statement Tuesday. “I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization. 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.”
The Sesame Workshop also issued a statement announcing his resignation. “This is a sad day for Sesame Street,” it said.
In the lawsuit, Cecil Singleton alleged that Clash “persuaded, induced, coerced or enticed” him to meet for sexual encounters when he was 15 years old.
“Kevin Clash preyed on vulnerable teenage boys, like Cecil Singleton, to satisfy his depraved sexual interests,” attorney Jeff Herman said. “By coming forward now, Cecil hopes to spare the lives of others like him and to begin his own healing process.”
The suit seeks $5 million in damages from Clash, alleging that Singleton “suffered severe injuries, including but not limited to mental, psychological and emotional trauma.”
The earlier accuser — who never filed a lawsuit — issued a statement through a lawyer last week saying he “wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.”
The man, now 23, had told Sesame Workshop in June that he started a relationship with Clash as a teenager, according to the workshop, which announced that a thorough investigation found “the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated.”
When the first accusation emerged, Clash acknowledged a relationship between “two consenting adults” but said the man otherwise was making a “false and defamatory allegation.”
“I am a gay man,” Clash said in a statement. “I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.”
The lawsuit alleged that Singleton, then 15, began communicating with Clash when he called a gay chat line seeking friends in 2003.
“During these telephone calls, Kevin Clash persuaded, induced, coerced or enticed Cecil Singleton to meet him for sexual encounters,” the complaint said.
Clash “groomed Cecil and gained his trust by, among other things, taking him to nice dinners and giving him money,” the suit said.
The two met “on numerous occasions over a period of years” and engaged in sexual activity, the suit said.
Clash is the high-pitched voice of the iconic furry red Elmo, whom he’s been playing since 1984, winning Emmy Awards along the way.
He was the third Muppeteer to take on the role.
Clash also was Sesame Street’s senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain, the “Sesame Street” website says.
A documentary, “Being Elmo,” focused on his story.
In an interview previously posted on the website of NYC Dads, an initiative of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Clash spoke about how he worked to spend time with his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife outside Baltimore.
CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.
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