VH-1 Special: Elmo (circa 2012)
And so the Elmo era was born. No longer in the background, Elmo was now the unofficial host of the show, garnering more face time than any other of the characters. Elmo's World was born.
On the show, Elmo shined. His popularity spawned such children's merchandise as the "Tickle Me, Elmo" doll that sold millions of copies. However, off camera, success began to go to Elmo's head. Excess through alcohol, drugs and sex begat a decline that was painful for his co-workers to watch. It happened right before their eyes.
Whereas he previously helped newcomers along, Elmo even began taking Sesame Street veterans to task. In one highly publicized outtake, a drunken Elmo was seen accosting Cookie Monster in 2002. "Give me a fuckin' cookie, you blue piece of shit! You keep all the cookies for yourself, you asshole, now give me one! Oh, I'll, oh, just give me a fuckin' cookie! I'm hungry, man! I'm gonna beat your sorry ass if you don't give me a...give me that jar!" The fight was seen across the world, and Elmo was given a two-month suspension and ordered to check himself into the Betty Ford Clinic.
"It was painful to see," Big Bird said. "We all hoped Elmo would get help, and we were glad he did, but many of those on the show began to show disdain toward him due to his power-hungry attitude."
Upon his rearrival on the show, Elmo displayed signs he may have changed his ways. However, what was once shaded by drugs and alcohol use was now a full-fledged desire for domination of Sesame Street. Many cast members claim Elmo attempted to pit other characters against each other for his own gain. In an interview in 2004, Elmo described his plans.
"Now that my mind is clear, I see what must be done. I am Sesame Street. Children love me. Their parents love me. Who do you think makes the money around here? The Corporation for Public Broadcasting? I don't think so. It's Elmo. They can't get rid of me. They will never get rid of me. I am the lord of the street."
Elmo's Machiavellian tendancies drew much attention at the PBS offices, but executives knew they were in for a losing battle. With competition from other children's shows such as Teletubbies and various cable programs, keeping Elmo in the spotlight proved to be their only choice. However, it was one they would soon regret.
"There was only so much we could do," said one executive who wished to remain anonymous. "Yes, there is much regret over the fact we could have done more to save Elmo and the show's reputation, but you have to remember who we were dealing with. Unfortunately, it got to a point to where one character was bigger than the show."
However, by this time, Elmo had reached his peak, and the decline proved to be harder than the excess. In 2007, with his popularity waning from viewers believing he had become a stale act and a decision by PBS to market Oscar the Grouch, Elmo's spotlight began to fade. It clicked off when he was charged with soliciting a prostitute when taking an undercover police officer to the Sesame Street studios during nighttime hours.
"Bitch set me up! The bitch set me up!," Elmo proclaimed on national television as he was taken for finger printing.
After serving six months in prison, Elmo once again became a disgraced figure. Never allowed back on Sesame Street, he began taking bit roles in B-movies to make any middling amount of money he could gather. In 2009, gambling debts forced Elmo to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and he was seen at various homeless shelters in the Tacoma, Wash. area. The Elmo era was over.
A modern day Bobby Fischer, not much is known of Elmo's whereabouts these days. Some say he left the country. Others say he simply wants nothing of the public life. But the downfall of an individual with so much potential--potential that was used in a way that was harmful both to himself and others--is painful for even his biggest critics.
"I think it took a lot out of him," Big Bird said. "His passion, no matter how deceitful and wrongly used at times, was gone. Elmo's failure will forever be one of the more painful aspects of all of our lives. I wish there was something we could do."