Childhood & Early Life
Kevin Clash was born Kevin Jeffrey Clash, on September 17, 1960, in Baltimore, Maryland, to George and Gladys Clash, into an African-American family. He is the third among four children in the family and was raised in very humble financial conditions. His father worked as a field worker while his mother ran a small day-care center near their house in Maryland.
Despite being born in a financially backward family, Kevin mentioned that his childhood was very lively and full of creativity. Kevin had become interested in puppets from an early age. His first inspiration came from watching television shows such as ‘Kukla, Fran and Ollie’ and ‘Sesame Street’.
By the time he was 10 years old, he had begun making his own puppets, his first self-made puppet being that of Mickey Mouse. However, he faced a bit of bullying due to his interests as his friends would tease him for ‘playing with dolls’. His parents encouraged him to follow his passion nevertheless and some of his first puppet shows were at his mother’s day care.
Most of his inspiration came from his father, who drew in his free time, while his mother was good at sewing. This artistic inheritance did good for Kevin and in his teenage years, he had a collection of 90 self-made puppets. He based most of his puppets on the characters he saw on television commercials, music and his friends.
By the time he was in junior high, at Dundalk High School, his reputation had reached far. He had begun performing at many local venues, such as schools, hospitals and churches. While performing at a local festival, he was spotted by Stu Kerr, a television personality. Stu contacted Kevin and began mentoring him to appear on television and also bagged Kevin his first television gig.
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Kevin made his television debut with a show titled ‘Caboose’, a children’s show which was being telecasted on Channel 2. He was hired by Stu Kerr for his first-ever professional job and later, he began working as a puppeteer on the ‘Romper Room’ franchise.
When he was 17 years old, he found another mentor in famous Puppeteer Kermit Love. Kevin had contacted Love after seeing his work on a documentary film. Later, when he was 19, he performed as the Cookie Monster. He found another mentor in Jim Henson.
In 1979, he further appeared on the children’s show ‘Captain Kangaroo’ as a puppeteer. He was hired as a guest performer on the show and over time, he also made some live appearances on the show. By the early 1980s, Kevin was working in two television shows, ‘Captain Kangaroo’ and ‘The Great Space Coaster’. Tim Henson offered him a film titled ‘The Dark Crystal’, an offer which Kevin had to ultimately decline due to his television work.
By mid-1980s, Kevin was free from both his television assignments and he turned to do films, his first film being ‘Labyrinth’ and he later appeared on the show titled ‘Sesame Street’. Kevin took a lot of creative liberty while working on ‘Sesame Street’ and performed nondescript characters known as Anything Muppets.
The show ‘Sesame Street’ happens to be one of the most popular American children’s show which aims at providing children education through a highly entertaining medium. The show has consistently received good reviews and making the full out of the show’s popularity, Kevin’s long term association with the show remained intact until 2012.
For the show, Kevin played several iconic characters such as Elmo, Baby Fats Domino, Benny Rabbit and Hoots the Owl etc. For his performance as Elmo on ‘Sesame Street’, he has been honoured with a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series.
By the mid-1990s, Kevin had become an important decision-maker on the show. He had the responsibilities of hiring and training the puppeteers. For the segment ‘Elmo’s World’ in the show, he also worked as a writer, director and a co-producer. In addition, Kevin also served as a mentor for the international co-productions of ‘Sesame Street’.
One of the most popular characters that he performed was Elmo, and Kevin played Elmo in all of the public relations appearances that he made.
He also featured in the Sesame Street spinoff film titled ‘Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird’. The film was a critical and commercial success upon its release.
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In the 1990 film ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’, he did a voice role as Splinter. He also worked on the sequel titled ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze’.
Most of his noted work was either under the mentorship of Jim Henson or under his production company, The Jim Henson Company. In 1989, he appeared playing two characters Nick and Caiman in ‘The Song of the Cloud Forest’, which was a segment of the Jim Henson produced television series titled ‘The Jim Henson Hour’.
In 1991, he performed Baby Sinclair on the family sitcom titled ‘Dinosaurs’. The show ran on the ABC Network from 1991 to 1994. The show overtime became a cult classic and several reruns of the show were telecast on Disney Channel.
In 1992, he appeared performing the main character named Ace Yu in the American/Canadian co-production titled ‘Dog City’. The show was a mix of animation and puppet characters and was met with some good reviews. The show remained on air for three seasons.
From 1996 to 2002, he frequently appeared on ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show’, performing his Sesame Street character Elmo. Around the same time, he appeared reviving Elmo on the show titled ‘Elmocize’.
In 2002, he appeared performing a character named Sam the Eagle on the fantasy comedy TV film titled ‘It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie’. The film was also known for the being the first television film of The Muppets franchise.
From 2003 to 2005, he also appeared performing a character named Randy and some additional characters in the show titled ‘Oobi’. In 2004, he further performed his iconic character Elmo on ‘The Tony Danza Show’.
He quit ‘Sesame Street’ in 2012 following the controversies erupted after accusations of indulging in sexual behaviour with minors. However, he continued working with The Jim Henson Company.
He was further seen making a guest appearance, performing Elmo for the medical drama series titled ‘Scrubs’. In the more recent times, he was seen performing various characters on shows such as ‘The Happytime Murders’ and ‘Earth to Ned’.
In 2012, he received an honorary degree from the Washington & Jefferson College.