Elmo Accuser Cecil Singleton Opens Up
Cecil Singleton didn’t know how famous Kevin Clash was when they met, he says, over a gay phone-chat line. Here he tells Maria Elena Fernandez about the details of the relationship. Read the other accounts here and here.
On Nov. 20, another firestorm hit Clash—a second 24-year-old college student, Cecil Singleton, came forward claiming that he and Clash had had sexual relations when he was 15. Singleton said he was watching the TV show Parenthood when his local station teased a story about a sexual-abuse allegation against Clash.
“It was like, bam!” Singleton told The Daily Beast. “It just hit me. I Googled it and it really blew me away. It made me kind of sick to my stomach. I immediately felt that it was probably necessary for me to come forward. It felt like it was the right thing to do.”
This time, there was no retraction, and Clash quickly resigned from Sesame Street.
In a statement, Clash said: “I am resigning from Sesame Workshop with a very heavy heart. 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.”
Meanwhile, Singleton hired an attorney, Jeff Herman, and attempted to press criminal charges against Clash, but learned he was a few months past the statute of limitations. On Nov. 20, Singleton filed a civil lawsuit in federal court claiming Clash coerced him into sexual activity when he was a sophomore in high school.
“At the time, I didn’t know that Sheldon Stephens had gotten paid or any of that,” Singleton said. “When I heard it on the news, I felt intuitively that he was telling the truth. I felt I had a strong responsibility considering my lack of judgment and how inappropriate my relationship was. I had to come forward, even if I wasn’t taken seriously, even if no one believed me.”
Singleton, who grew up in upper Harlem and had just spent two years in foster care when he first met Clash, said he met the puppeteer not at a fancy industry party, but on a gay phone-chat line. Singleton called in March 2004 and created his introduction profile. Clash pushed a button, he said, indicating he wanted to speak to him.
“Back then, the Internet was not as popular as it is today,” Singleton said. “I’ve always been very androgynous and openly gay. Living in this urban neighborhood in uptown Harlem, it wasn’t exactly an ideal place to meet someone. I was the only out gay student in my high school’s history. It wasn’t a recipe for meeting people romantically.”
Singleton recalled that he and Clash spoke on the phone for about an hour; he claimed to be 18 and Clash said he was 36 and worked as an official in the school system. Clash invited Singleton to meet him for dinner near his home. Over dinner, Singleton said, he confessed that he was only 15, “and Kevin didn’t seem surprised or alarmed and, in fact, he told me his age. I believe he was 43 at the time, because I remember doing the math in my head and he was two years older than my mother.”
It wasn’t unusual at the time for Singleton to date older men, he said. He came out when he was 13 and had already had sex with other adult men, he said, but no one as old as Clash. That night after dinner, Clash invited Singleton to go up to his condo “for a proper kiss,” and the two engaged in sexual behavior but not intercourse, Singleton said.
“I was never comfortable with his age, but I tried to be,” he said. “I allowed him to pursue me to see what would develop. The one thing I can say that was consistent the entire time that I’ve known him is that he was a gentleman. He was never disrespectful or aggressive verbally with me. If there’s anything I was seduced by, it was that fact. That distinguished him. He was very nice.”
Singleton said he and Clash went on six or seven dates, and that Clash always offered to pay for his cabs and sometimes gave Singleton small amounts of cash to help him get by. Clash would check in by phone twice a day, Singleton said.
Two weeks into the relationship, however, Singleton called it off. “I came to the realization that I was never going to be comfortable with his age. And I thought it was very selfish of me to lead him on, considering he seemed to really like me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. I just didn’t see myself liking him as much as he liked me.”
During that period, Singleton said, he and Clash never had sexual intercourse, nor did Clash offer him drugs. They lost touch—Singleton said his phone number changes a lot—until they found each other again on the same chat line when Singleton was 17. They went out on two more dates before they broke it off again, he said.
But a couple of years later, around 2007 or 2008, Singleton said, he called the chat line again and there was Clash. They began seeing each other again and had sexual intercourse for the first time, he said. Singleton said he was 19 or 20 at the time and still had no idea about Clash’s fame. He didn’t even know his last name.
“But at that point, there were certain details that were suspect to me,” Singleton said. “I guess because I had matured and was starting to notice things. It was pretty clear he was a man of means. He had a personal driver. He took me to extravagant restaurants. He had a phone answering service.”
One day, Singleton called the answering service and spoke to the operator, who told him Clash’s last name. He Googled him and was stunned.
“The thing that upset me the most at the time is that he lied,” Singleton said. “I think at some point it crossed my mind how inappropriate our relationship was, as someone who works with children. I confronted him in person with the information. He gave me very roundabout answers. It was evident on his face that this was something he never intended for me to find out. I think I saw him one more time after that, and if I can attribute it to anything, it was him being uncomfortable that I knew his identity.”
Until Stephens’s allegations surfaced, however, Singleton continued to believe that his relationship with Clash “was something different, individual and different.”
“I don’t know if you can understand unless you’ve been in the situation,” he said. “It’s like if you date a teacher you have a crush on and you believe it’s something special. You know you shouldn’t do it but you can’t help it. I thought it was all about me. But I realize that whether it’s a man or woman, gay or straight, it’s inappropriate, illegal, and immoral. I’m not saying I’m not responsible. I did play a part. But I feel strongly now that he’s a predator. He knew I would be susceptible to him because I had just gotten out of foster care. I think he preyed on us.”
At the same time that Singleton and his lawyer were making TV appearances and doing interviews about his relationship with Clash, reports surfaced that Stephens wanted to take back his recantation.
“I feel sympathy for Sheldon, but it’s very difficult for me to empathize with his situation because there’s no sufficient amount of money to make me compromise my reputation and word,” Singleton said. “You couldn’t pay me $2 million to say that I made it up or was confused. I don’t have ill feelings toward him, but it just hasn’t made the situation easier for the rest of us.”
Singleton has said he will drop his $5 million lawsuit if Clash admits what happened between them. Before he filed his suit, Singleton said, he requested a meeting with Clash so that they could openly talk about their relationship, but the puppeteer turned him down.
“I am not capable of ruining someone’s life just for the hell of it,” Singleton said. “But I feel really guilty about how long I waited to report my relationship. People are pegging me as a gold-digger and it doesn’t sit well with me. What I wanted was the truth to come out. If Kevin would acknowledge what happened, own up and tell the truth, I will drop the lawsuit. I’m not comparing my situation to a child being molested. Seduction and molestation are two different things but when it’s a child, it’s still abuse.”