“This is hard for Elmo,” he says, hands shaking as he brings a glass of water to his felt mouth. Beloved actor of stage and screen, Elmo has been a leading Muppet on “Sesame Street” for over 55 years. He is now coming forward with a secret in this Squeaky Wheel exclusive: “Elmo is disabled.”
His sigh is one of relief. It turns out over the show’s entire run, Elmo has needed help from a carer in order to move on set, to do the wild gesticulating he’s known for, and even just to speak. “Without help, Elmo can’t move. Elmo just lies there, silent and motionless, like a pile of plush. Lots of fans will be shocked by that.” He reminds us that the signs have been there all along. “Viewers out there in Television Land probably didn’t notice, but Elmo’s legs are never on screen. That was to hide Jerry, who helps Elmo to walk and talk.”
Jerry, curled up on the floor under Elmo, still dutifully providing him assistance, comments, “It’s honest work. And we got a good friendship going on now. You end up getting pretty close to someone when your hand’s jammed up their hole for fifty years.”
Elmo explains why he’s kept his condition quiet for so long: “Elmo couldn’t come forward before. People want to make you feel sad for needing care, but when you get it, care can make you happy. Elmo was scared he wouldn’t be allowed a job if anyone knew. But by getting the help Elmo needed, Elmo got a job! Elmo can work and play and make friends. Elmo can do anything once his access needs are met!”
When asked about his timing, Elmo is adamant that this is about setting an example, proving to other disabled Muppets that they can talk about their accessibility needs.
“Elmo’s not the only member of Sesame Street with problems you don’t hear about. But if Elmo is big and brave, maybe Cookie Monster can talk about his eating disorder, or Swedish Chef can open up about his speech impediment. Elmo’s pretty sure Oscar has major depression, but he never talks about it.”
As for the future, Elmo is optimistic. “Maybe this can prove we’re all people too, like you. Well, not people. Muppets. But we’re all Muppets when you think about it. And maybe sometimes we all need a stranger’s hand up our ass to remind us of that.”