Kevin Clash is not without his supporters.
A former boyfriend of the puppeteer, who provided the voice of Elmo on Sesame Street for nearly three decades before resigning last week after being targeted in two lawsuits alleging that he engaged in sexual activity with minors, objects to how he feels Clash is being portrayed in the wake of the scandal.
"Kevin is not a villain," Jason Murray, a 29-year-old teacher who dated Clash in 2004, exclusively tells E! News. "Yes, he had an affinity for younger men, but what successful [straight] man doesn’t have an affinity for younger women? It’s the same thing, gay or not.”
Clash, 52, acknowledged that he is gay earlier this month when 24-year-old Sheldon Stephens came forward to claim that he was 16 when he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with Clash. Via his attorney, Stephens recanted his claims the following day, saying they had "an adult consensual relationship."
Two other men, Cecil Singleton and one going by John Doe, then sued Clash for damages, claiming in separate lawsuits that they engaged in sexual activity with the children's television star while they were underage.
Clash has denied engaging in any illegal activity and his attorney has said that both suits are without merit.
Murray, who says he was 21 when he met Clash at a gay club in Manhattan, told us that, while he is no longer in contact with his ex, he's happy to defend him.
"Does he prey on these guys? In my heart I don't believe that," Murray says, reiterating his opinion that liking younger men in general doesn't make Clash a bad guy.
"I think it's like Hugh Hefner, he dates younger women," he says. "Kevin likes younger guys." But, "I am reading the news and all the negative stuff. I don't see it. He had a good heart."