NEW YORK Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind the "Sesame Street" character Elmo, resigned on Tuesday following new allegations that he had sex with an underage boy, adding to an ongoing controversy involving one of America's most popular children's brands.
In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Cecil Singleton is seeking more than $5 million in damages from Clash. Singleton claims he met the then-32-year-old puppeteer in 1993 in a gay chat room when he was 15.
It added that on numerous occasions over a period of years Clash engaged in sexual activity with Singleton.
The news came just a week after another man recanted his claims that Clash had sex with him when he was 16 years old.
Clash, 52, said he was leaving Sesame Workshop, the company behind the television show, after nearly 30 years 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," he said in a statement issued by his publicist, Risa B. Heller.
"I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately," he added.
The New York-based Sesame Workshop said it was a sad day for "Sesame Street," which premiered in 1969 and has been educating and entertaining children for decades with characters such as Elmo, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster.
"Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin's personal life has become a distraction that none of us wants, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street," the company said in a statement.
A representative declined further comment.
The unnamed 23-year-old man who first accused Clash recanted his claims last week, saying the relationship was consensual. His lawyers were not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.
Clash had denied the allegations and acknowledged a past relationship with his first accuser. He added the pair were both consenting adults at the time.
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it," Clash said at the time.
Sesame Workshop said the first allegations involving Clash came to its attention in June when the earlier accuser contacted the company by email.
The Elmo character debuted on "Sesame Street" in 1979. While Clash was the third performer to animate the child-like shaggy red monster, Sesame Workshop credits him with turning Elmo into the international sensation he became.
(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Osterman)