“Elmo loves you” took on an icky new subtext this week.
“Sunny days” turned dark when Kevin Clash, the towering puppeteer who has voiced Sesame Street’s cherished furry, red monster for 28 years, was forced to take a temporary leave of absence when a 23-year-old man claimed to have had a sexual relationship with him at 16. Clash maintained that his accuser had already turned 18 by the time of their liaison, and he was vindicated Tuesday when the unidentified accuser recanted his claim, saying that it was, indeed, “an adult consensual relationship.”
Still, some details will be difficult to shake. Not to be outdone by the week’s other headline-making sex scandal, for example—seriously, the head of the CIA and Elmo in the same week?—damning emails quickly surfaced that Clash sent his accuser. “I’m sorry that I keep talking about sex with you, it’s driving me insane,” reads one. Another: “I want you to know that I love you and I will never hurt you. I’m here to protect you and make sure your dreams come true.” (It helps to read these in Elmo’s helium voice.)
After nearly three decades with Elmo on his right hand, Clash had a bit of a breakout moment last year with the release of the critically acclaimed documentary Being Elmo, a field guide to his career, the trailer of which is below. Asked whether the recent recanting by his accuser means Clash will be cooing Elmoisms at children soon again, a Sesame Workshop source said, “We have no comment. This just happened!”
Whether the world’s foremost crimson puppet emerges from the scandal unscathed remains to be seen—but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Elmo’s starred in episodes brought to you by the letters “Uh” and “Oh.” Here’s a look back at some of his biggest controversies.
Elmo Gets Racist, Then Gets Arrested
Things Elmo loves: Playing. Learning. You. Things he hates, according to one Elmo impersonator on a ranting rampage through New York City: Jews. Hindus. Illegal immigrants. Things that can’t be unseen: Elmo handcuffed in Central Park, even if that Elmo is really a bigoted lunatic in a cheap costume.
Elmo Hosts Katy Perry and Her Cleavage
The tag team of Elmo and Katy Perry nearly sparked mass nationwide puberty in September 2010 when the pop star joined the Sesame Street resident for a duet of “Hot N Cold” while wearing a shirt so low cut that if Elmo weren’t red already, he’d certainly blush. Sesame Street never aired the segment, but the clip went viral, and Perry mocked the ordeal by wearing a chest-accentuating Elmo shirt during an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Brought to you by the letters DD.
Elmo Talks Dirty
A New Jersey couple who bought their toddler a Fisher Price Elmo, which is supposed to teach wee ones how to count, may have had to have “the talk” with their child way earlier than planned. Elmo is supposed to say, “4, 5, 6,” when a button is pushed. Apparently, he really liked having that button pushed, because the Elmo on at least this version of the toy, as heard in this news report, says, “Who wants to have sex?”
Elmo Starts a Brawl
Guys, it distinctly says “tickle me” Elmo, not “hand-to-hand combat over me” Elmo. Back in 1996, Tickle Me Elmo was the It toy of the holidays, with parents prepared to do anything in order to get one under their Christmas tree—including break bones. At one New Jersey Walmart, a stampede of 300 customers trampled a store employee who was holding the location’s last Elmo, breaking one of his ribs and giving him a concussion. Nearly as outrageous was the $2,000 some early buyers were reselling their tickle-me toys for on secondhand markets.
Elmo Makes a Death Threat
Screaming children everywhere, all day, every day. It was only a matter of time before Elmo turned on them. It appeared that was happening to one Elmo fan named James when his “Elmo Knows Your Name Doll,” which connects to a computer to learn phrases that it repeats back to its owner, ran out of batteries. When the batteries were changed, some glitch caused Elmo to reveal his dark side. “Kill James,” the toy said.
Elmo Makes a Death Threat, Part II
Little James isn’t the only witness to Elmo’s best Chucky impression. Potty Time With Elmo, a book that plays sound messages meant to encourage tykes learning to use the loo, malfunctioned for at least one owner. Push a button and Elmo cackles before asking what sounds unmistakably like, “Who wants to die?” Shockingly, that is not what Elmo is supposed to say.
Elmo Gets Censored
Who knew Elmo had such a potty mouth? OK, the video is completely doctored for comedic effect for a bit on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show, in which he mocks the FCC’s excessive censorship guidelines by bleeping words from programs that never had to be censored in the first place. After a depressingly long list in which the childhood hero did engage in uncouth behavior, it’s refreshing that, for once, this clip is just a joke.