NEW YORK -- Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned from Sesame Street on Tuesday amid allegations he sexually abused underage boys, bringing an end to a 28-year career in which he turned the furry red monster into one of the most beloved -- and lucrative -- characters on TV and in toy stores.
"Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work Sesame Street is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer," the 52-year-old performer said in a statement. "I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately."
His departure came as a 24-year-old college student, Cecil Singleton, sued Clash for more than $5 million Tuesday, accusing the actor of engaging in sexual behaviour with him when he was 15. Singleton charged Clash made a habit of trolling gay chat lines for underage boys and meeting them for sex.
It was the second such allegation in just over a week. On Nov. 12, a man in his 20s said he had sex with Clash at age 16. A day later, though, the man recanted, saying their relationship was adult and consensual.
Clash was a young puppeteer at Sesame Street in the mid-1980s when he was assigned a little-used puppet now known as Elmo and turned him into a star, creating his high-pitched voice and child-like personality. Clash also served as the show's senior Muppet co-ordinator and Muppet captain, winning 23 daytime Emmy awards and one prime-time Emmy.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop said "the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us want," and that Clash had concluded "he can no longer be effective in his job."
"This is a sad day for Sesame Street," the company said.
Clash did not address the new allegations. He said previously he had an adult and consensual relationship with the first accuser. The divorced father of a grown daughter, he acknowledged he is gay.
At a news conference Tuesday, Singleton said he and Clash met on a gay chat line when he was 15, and for a two-week period, they had sexual contact but not intercourse. He said he didn't know what Clash did for a living until he was 19 and Googled the man's name.
"I was shocked when I found out what he did for a living," said Singleton, a student in criminal psychology who lives in New York but would not say where he goes to school.
He said he didn't consider speaking up until he heard about last week's accusation.
"I thought I was a unique circumstance," Singleton said. "I did not know that it was something he had done habitually."
-- The Associated Press