Kevin Jeffrey Clash (b. September 17, 1960) is an accomplished puppeteer whose characters include Elmo, Clifford, and Hoots the Owl. He served as Sesame Street Muppet Captain and co-executive producer for several years and was promoted to "senior creative advisor" at Sesame Workshop in May 2007.
Reflecting on his decades as a puppeteer, Clash released an autobiography titled My Life as a Furry Red Monster in the fall of 2006. The 2011 documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey chronicles Clash's life as a puppeteer.
Clash resigned from his role on Sesame Street in November 2012 following allegations of improper sexual conduct. He has since relocated to the Los Angeles area, continuing to puppeteer on Jim Henson Company projects.
Clash grew up with parents George and Gladys, older siblings George Jr. ("Georgie") and Anita ("NeNe"), and little sister Pam. His father works as a flash welder operator at Raymond Metals and a neighborhood handyman, and his mother ran a daycare.
Clash began building puppets at the age of ten. Clash's parents were supportive of his interest in puppetry, driving him to puppet shows, allowing for his love of television and craft, and not urging him to attend college when he announced he was pursuing puppetry professionally. Among his television viewing were such series as Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and H.R. Pufnstuf. Clash has admitted he watched television inches away from the screen, with no permanent eye damage. His parents were supposedly more amused than angered when he cut apart his father's good overcoat to create a monkey puppet with the fuzzy black lining. As a tribute, Elmo's parents were named George and Gladys in an Elmo's World segment; their names have since been changed.
He performed on Baltimore's Harbor Front as a teenager. In high school, he was voted "Most Likely to be a Millionaire."
Early television work
In the early '80s, he performed regularly, with Jim Martin, on Bob Keeshan's Wake Up with the Captain, a continuation of Captain Kangaroo. Clash performed a young boy named Artie and other characters, built puppets, and occasionally appeared on-camera, as Kevin the college student and various ensemble roles.
From 1981 to 1986, he appeared in The Great Space Coaster, as Goriddle Gorilla, Rory and Huggle Scuffy. During this stint, he attracted the attention of Muppet designer Kermit Love, who invited him to work on various Henson projects. His company, Clash Puppets, created the sets for a 1986 video Wrinkles: In Need of Cuddles and the puppets for 1990s series The Puzzle Place; he was a puppeteer for both productions.
Working with the Muppets
Kevin Clash first met Kermit Love in the 1970s, who occasionally arranged for the fledgling puppeteer to visit the set of Sesame Street. In 1979, the main Muppet performers were performing in a Muppet Movie float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and extra puppeteers were needed for the Sesame Street float. Clash was brought in to perform Cookie Monster for the event.
Later, in 1983, he was officially hired to perform in ten episodes of Sesame Street. However, at the time he was performing full-time on two other shows, and the producers of both refused to work around his schedule. Thus, Clash was forced to tear up his contract to appear on Sesame Street.
Kevin Clash was also given the opportunity to perform in The Dark Crystal, but Kermit Love dissuaded him, urging Clash to concentrate on his other series work.
Kevin Clash officially became a Sesame Street puppeteer in 1984. Some of his earliest characters included Hoots the Owl and Dr. Nobel Price, later supplemented by the likes of Baby Natasha and Kingston Livingston III. However, it was Elmo who became his main character, once Clash assumed the part from previous puppeteers Brian Muehl and Richard Hunt, and placed his own imprint on the red monster. Clash has also sung in voice-over in a variety of film and cartoon inserts on the series, including "Skin", "Animal Books", and "Take Care of That Smile."
Clash served as an additional Muppet performer on Follow That Bird, where he performed the voice of one of the feathered friends, and reprised Elmo, along with other characters, in the feature film The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and innumerable specials, appearances, and videos.
During the late 1980s, Clash was involved with a variety of Henson productions. He performed P.J. in the Play-Along videos, and Father Bunny and Be-Bop in Tale of the Bunny Picnic. He would also perform Eliot Shag on Dog City, various characters in Muppet Time interstitials. He also performed the title character in the Muppet Sing-Along video Billy Bunny's Animal Songs.
Clash became one of the main Muppet performers on The Jim Henson Hour. His two main characters on the series were the lizard-like Leon and the bass player Clifford. Out of these two, only Clifford has remained a major character, subsequently appearing in The Muppets at Walt Disney World, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, a guest spot on The Arsenio Hall Show, the albums Muppet Beach Party and Kermit Unpigged, and the feature films Muppets from Space and The Muppets Wizard of Oz. However, Clifford became a star when he hosted the short-lived Muppets Tonight, for which Clash also performed Mulch and Craniac.
Clash performed in many of the recent Muppet films, including Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets from Space, It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and The Muppets Wizard of Oz. In Muppet Treasure Island, he performed one of the main villains, Polly Lobster, as well as Spa'am and Black Dog. He also performed many of Frank Oz's characters in many scenes, and Frank Oz performed the voices later. Although he performed the Sam the Eagle puppet but not the voice in Muppet Treasure Island, he would later perform the character's voice, but not the puppetry, in It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (John Kennedy did the actual puppeteering), as well as in the video game Muppets Party Cruise.
Creature Shop Work
Clash also worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, supplying the face and voice of Splinter.
Resignation from Sesame Workshop
Clash resigned from Sesame Street in November 2012 in response to two allegations that he had sexual relationships with minors, which Clash denied, stating that any relationships that occurred were between consenting adults. Clash has since been twice cleared of the charges.
Sesame Workshop released a statement about Clash's resignation on November 20:
- "Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization. Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street."
Upon Clash's departure, his tenure as Elmo (and other Sesame Street characters) ended. Portions of season 44 had already been filmed prior to his departure, and so material featuring Clash as Elmo continued to be featured throughout the 2013-2014 season of Sesame Street; performing Elmo consistently in most street scenes (most with Clash only providing pre-recorded vocal tracks), as well as the Elmo the Musical segments, sporadic inserts and some Word of the Day bits. A PSA featuring Clash as Elmo and Chris Colfer appears on the Little Children, Big Challenges website. Existing Elmo material recorded by Clash from previous seasons is included in almost every episode.
Clash's last known public performance of Elmo was during a radio interview with WNYC on October 30, 2012 (twenty days before his official resignation from Sesame Workshop).
Ryan Dillon has since taken over the character of Elmo. In a statement regarding Clash's departure, Sesame Workshop stated: "Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of Sesame Street to engage, educate and inspire children around the world, as it has for 40 years."
- Sesame Street: Elmo (1985-2012), Baby Fats Domino, Baby Natasha, Baby Tooth, a beet from "Grow High Grow Low", Benny Rabbit, The Big Bad Wolf (several '80s Sesame Street News Flash skits), Billy Idle, Booby Bunny, Cee Lo Green Muppet, Chad, Chef John, Chip Cat, Clementine (1985-1988), Cloud, Cookie Monster's Mommy ("The First Time Me Eat Cookie"), Dexter (head), Dick, The Duck, Dr. Nobel Price (1984 - 1988), Dwayne, Eel, Ernie's Large Lavender Live Hand Anything Muppet friend from "Don't Throw That Trash on the Ground", Essie Silverman, Fat Blue boy in "Big Kids Cry", Felicity (in "The People in Your Neighborhood"), Ferlinghetti Donizetti, Finn, The Grand High Triangle Lover, Gus, Herb, Honkers, Hoots the Owl, J. P., Kermit's Doctor, Kingston Livingston III, Left, "Let's Go Driving" son, Luba Merquick, Mario, Max, Mel, Mike the Ladybug, Miss Blechman, Next Generation Security Officer, Oliver, Pablo Paint Palette, Patti Paintbrush, Paul Pencil, Peter Piper, Pizzeria Dos, Preposterous, Professor D. Rabbit, Sad, Sam (pianist), Selma Worm, Sergeant Gabriel, The Sun (in "Where Do I Belong?"), The Super Foods broccoli, Timmy, Warren Wolf, Watson, Wolfgang the Seal, Yip Yip Martian
- Follow That Bird: Additional Muppet Performer
- The Alphabet Game: Dimples the Dog
- Getting Ready to Read: Sam
- Free to Be... a Family: Unemployed Bear
- Labyrinth: Firey 1, Ambrosius, One of The Four Guards (puppeteer)
- The Tale of the Bunny Picnic: Be-Bop, Father
- Jim Henson's Play-Along Video series: PJ
- Wow, You're a Cartoonist!: Artie
- Neat Stuff To Know & To Do: Dwayne, Vinny Brontosaurus
- The Jim Henson Hour: Clifford, Leon, Ace Yu ("Dog City"), Caiman ("The Song of the Cloud Forest"), Nick ("The Song of the Cloud Forest"), Blue Extreme, Doglion, Frackles, Bob
- The Cosby Show: Hypocritic Oaf, Beautiful Day Monster, Luncheon Counter Monster, and Pineapple
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Splinter
- Dinosaurs: Baby Sinclair, Howard Handupme, Howlin' Jay, Female Grapdelite Dinosaur Chief (face), Ethyl (sometimes, puppetry only), Monster (face), Mr. Ashland (puppeteer), Pterodactyl (puppeteer)
- Dog City: Eliot Shag
- Muppet Sing-A-Long: Billy Bunny's Animal Songs: Billy Bunny
- Sesame Street Stays Up Late!: Cousin Pepe, Elmo-noske, Bjarne Betjent (voice)
- Muppet Time: Do Re Mi Monster, Jeffy
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree: Father Mouse
- Muppet Treasure Island: Bad Polly, Spa'am, Black Dog, Real Old Tom; puppeteer for Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle (some scenes), Mr. Bimbo
- The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss: Little Cat Fleep
- Muppets Tonight: Carter, Composta Heap, Craniac, Galahad, Moo-Ing's henchman, Mulch, Lester Tomwater, Arthur Modell
- A is for Asthma: Dani's Doctor
- Muppets from Space
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland: Grouch Jailer, Pestie
- Bert & Ernie's Word Play: The Frosty Four
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie: Sam the Eagle
- The Muppets' Wizard of Oz
- Sesame Beginnings: Baby Elmo
- Elmo's Christmas Countdown: The Mouse King
- Panwapa: Azibo the Monster
- Sesame Street: Grandpa Mudcat, "Madlenka" theme singer, "Feets Too Big" shoe salesman
- Big Bag: Avery
- A Sesame Street Christmas Carol: Sam the Super Automated Ghost of Christmas Future
- Beginning Together
- Make Music Together
- A Celebration of Me, Grover
- Kids' Favorite Country Songs
- Let's Eat!
- Here for You
- Abby in Wonderland
- Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce
- "Elmo's World"
- "Sesame Beginnings"
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland
- Coming Home
- Labyrinth, assistant production coordinator
- Muppet Treasure Island, puppet coordinator
- Dog City, puppet captain
- Big Bag, production consultant
- During his tenure as the character, Kevin Clash rarely appeared on talk shows without Elmo. One of the few instances in which he appeared on television as himself was on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in a 2006 episode, "The Faces Behind the Famous Names". Other on-camera appearances included guest spots on The Daily Show, Rove Live, Emeril Live and Grill It! with Bobby Flay. In the latter, he prepares a rib eye steak and his favorite Vidalia onion recipe with butter and garlic which he describes as what Sesame Street would call a "sometime food." He also appeared on-camera with Jim Henson in an appearance with Clifford on The Arsenio Hall Show.
- Clash made an appearance on The CW's The Game in the 2009 episode "Do the Wright Thing" as the on-camera puppeteer of Mookie. He also appeared as a puppeteer in an episode of Reading Rainbow.
Awards & honors
- Kevin won Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series for his work as Elmo and Hoots the Owl on Sesame Street in 1990, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
- ↑ Kevin Clash - Archive Interview Part 1 of 4
- ↑ "Workshop promotes Elmo", C21Media, 16 May 2007.
- ↑ While locals referred to it as Turner's Station, its official name is Turner Station.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 My Life as a Furry Red Monster: What Being Elmo Has Taught Me About Life, Love, and Laughing Out Loud.
- ↑ Clash, Kevin The MuppetCast Episode 48
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Jensen, Elizabeth and Stelter, Brian. "Kevin Clash, Elmo Puppeteer, Resigns", The New York Times Media Decoder blog. November 20, 2012.
- ↑ Kevin Clash, puppeteer who voiced Elmo, cleared of three sexual abuse lawsuits
- ↑ Sesame Workshop's Statement Regarding Kevin Clash