A Brief History of the Downfall of Our Childhood Icons

Just last week, we reported that a 23-year-old man recanted his allegations of underage sexual abuse against Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash. At that time, the Sesame Street actor — who was recently the subject of the heartwarming documentary Being Elmo — took a leave of absence to protect the reputation of children’s organization and recover from the incident. “I am relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest. I will not discuss it further,” he stated. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the matter.

The accuser recanted again, saying he felt pressured to dismiss claims and was paid off by Clash. A day later, a second man came forward with similar allegations of an underage sexual relationship, prompting Clash to resign. A lawyer indicated he’s been in touch with other potential victims. “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 stated. Sesame Workshop supported the decision and called it “a sad day.” We couldn’t agree more — for Clash, who has dedicated nearly thirty years to Sesame Street and his beloved character, and for the possible victims involved.

While waiting to see how the case shakes out, the news got us thinking about other childhood icons who suffered a downfall in their career — in some cases, tragically so. We hope Clash’s story turns out much differently.

Paul Reubens

Paul Reubens will always be Pee-wee Herman — that childlike, bow tie-wearing character with the infectious laugh that we fell in love with on the surreal Pee-wee’s Playhouse and in the hysterical Pee-wee movies. That’s why it was such a shock when Reubens was arrested for public masturbation in 1991 and basically vanished off the face of the planet until fairly recently. He’s resurrected his image — a persona Reubens always went to great lengths to keep squeaky clean — and as adults we can forgive, forget, and accept Pee-wee’s darker side, even if Reubens’ career has never truly recovered from the incident.