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'Sesame Street' turns 45: 14 most controversial moments

'Sesame Street' first aired on Nov. 10, 1969. In its 45th year, the show (which is filmed right here in Astoria) still ranks as one of the highest-rated children's programs and has more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube.

To mark the anniversary, we've compiled some of the show's most controversial moments, from Mr. Hooper's death in 1982 to Katy Perry's, um, revealing performance in 2009.

Grover particpates in civil disobedience

Photo Credit: YouTube / asaweryold

"Sesame Street" premiered in 1969 and was initially geared toward lower-income, inner-city children. In one memorable scene in the first season, Grover (who was green, not blue, at the time) decides to participate in civil disobedience after being told "someone has to be last in line." Grover tries to change his position and is trampled. Ouch.

Roosevelt Franklin

In the early 1970s,
Photo Credit: YouTube / MarshalGrover

In the early 1970s, "Sesame Street" had a resident named Roosevelt Franklin, who was purple, had a 'fro and frequently spoke in rhyme or scat. While he wasn't any exact race, the show faced criticism that Roosevelt Franklin was a caricature of African-Americans, especially when he taught about Africa. He stopped appearing on the show in 1975.

Mr. Hooper dies

In 1982, real-life cast member Will Lee, who
Photo Credit: YouTube / TVBumpersCommercials's channel

In 1982, real-life cast member Will Lee, who played shopkeeper Mr. Hooper, died. The show decided to deal with his death head-on, with the characters explaining death to Big Bird . The scene is very moving, although some parents worried it was too much for young children to handle, as Big Bird repeatedly asks "why?" and is told simply "just because."

Mr. Snuffleupagus revealed

For years, Mr. Snuffleupagus was a running gag
Photo Credit: YouTube / Rohail Hashmi

For years, Mr. Snuffleupagus was a running gag on the show. Only Big Bird saw Mr. Snuffleupagus, and the adults frequently teased him about the imaginary friend. But after 16 years (and the release of Big Bird's own feature film, "Follow that Bird!"), the show's writers felt they needed to encourage children to tell the truth without worrying that adults won't believe them. In 1985, Mr. Snuffleupagus was revealed in all his glory, although Big Bird couldn't help but rub it in some of the adults' faces: "You never believed me!"

Bert and Ernie

Oh, Bert and Ernie... the closest male roommates
Photo Credit: Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library

Oh, Bert and Ernie... the closest male roommates until Joey and Chandler. The pair's sexual orientation has long been considered up-in-the-air (especially after an early '90s skit where Ernie eats cookies in Bert's bed), with Hollywood Urban Legends tracing the controversy back to "Spy" magazine founder Kurt Anderson joking that "Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet." In 1993, after campaigns were started to ban Bert and Ernie due to their perceived homosexuality, the show's producers were forced to publicly state that the pair are "good friends" and also "not humans" to boot.

But that was hardly the end of the Bert and Ernie controversy. In fact, last week, a family business in Northern Ireland refused to make a cake in support of gay marriage. The cake was set to feature a picture of Bert and Ernie.

Kami, HIV positive muppet

In 2002, the South African edition of
Photo Credit: Getty Images

In 2002, the South African edition of "Sesame Street" introduced Kami, an HIV positive muppet, in an effort to dispel stereotypes about people with the virus. Kami and former President Bill Clinton even created a PSA about HIV/AIDS. But some parents objected to Kami's presence, saying their children were too young to learn about the virus--and even suggesting that the show was promoting homosexuality.

Contributing to ADD?

As the number of children diagnosed with ADD
Photo Credit: YouTube / pantspayroll

As the number of children diagnosed with ADD has soared over the 30 years, the possible causes have been greatly studied. In the early 2000s, researchers suggested the increase could come from the rise of children watching TV shows like "Sesame Street" and playing with toys like Baby Einstein, since these type of activities provide instant stimulation. "Sesame Street" in particular is broken into 40 short segments, tailored for a toddler's attention span, rather than focusing on increasing children's attention. The show also features bright, sometimes psychedelic sequences that arguably trigger attention span problems.

Cookie Monster's health

Cookie Monster has always had some, um, questionable
Photo Credit: Getty Images / AFP / Stan Honda

Cookie Monster has always had some, um, questionable behavior. In the early days of "Sesame Street" (those DVDs are now labeled 'for adults only'), he smoked a pipe and was known as Sid. Later, cookies became he vice, and his character was known for the sweet addiction. But changing attitudes about sugar made it all the way to "Sesame Street." In 2005, Cookie Monster started eating vegetables. Yet it wasn't enough to sway First Lady Michelle Obama, who only talked healthy breakfast with Grover. Sorry, Cookie Monster.

Mahboub the Arab-Israeli muppet

In Israel, two versions of
Photo Credit: YouTube / Shalom Sesame

In Israel, two versions of "Sesame Street" air: One for Israeli children and one for Arab children. But in 2006, the Children's Television Workshop introduced a new muppet, Mahboub, who is Arab, into the Israeli version to try to bridge the cultural gap. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many Israelis were upset with Mahboub's introduction.

GNN and Pox News

What better candidate for a journalist than Oscar
Photo Credit: YouTube / MarshalGrover

What better candidate for a journalist than Oscar the Grouch? In 2009, he stared in a skit about the fake news channel GNN, Grouchy News Network, which featured an elephant sneaking into a bathtub. Cookie Monster also bares his soul about his cookie breaking in half too. Things get a little intense when a viewer calls in and tells Oscar she wants to a more grouchy news broadcast, and, "From now on, I am watching Pox News. Now that is a trashy news show." After complaints from Fox, PBS's ombudsman said "although the parody was too good to resist, it should have been resisted."

Katy Perry's 'dress-up' clothes

Katy Perry visited Elmo to sing
Photo Credit: YouTube / Katy Perry

Katy Perry visited Elmo to sing "Hot N Cold" about Elmo's refusal to play with her. Unfortunately, her "dress-up clothes" were deemed a bit too skimpy for children's television. The Sesame Workshop pulled the parody video from the show, and said in a statement "in light of the feedback we've received on the Katy Perry music video, which was released only on YouTube, we have decided we will not air the segment the television broadcast of ‘Sesame Street,’ which is aimed at preschoolers." The segment was still available online, although Perry tweeted "Wow, looks like my play date with Elmo has been cut short!" She later parodied the video in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, where she wore a low-cut Elmo shirt and bounced around during the "Bronx Beat" skit.

Lily, the 'food insecure' muppet

In 2011,
Photo Credit: YouTube / Sesame Street

In 2011, "Sesame Street" introduced a new muppet, Lily, in a new special called "Growing Hope Against Hunger." Lily is a 7-year-old "food insecure" muppet who the show's writers would help draw attention to the growing problem of childhood hunger. "We felt it was best to have this new Muppet take this on in a positive way and a healthy way," Sesame Workshop senior vice president Jeanette Betancourt told the New York Times. Although this seemed like a fairly simple mission, some conservative publications politicized the character, saying "with a record number of Americans on food stamps, record unemployment, increased debt and record poverty, 'Sesame Street' will introduce a poor, starving Muppet to educate on the growing number of starving children in Obama’s America."

Mitt Romney and Big Bird

During a 2012 presidential debate, Mitt Romney declared
Photo Credit: Getty / Timothy A. Clary

During a 2012 presidential debate, Mitt Romney declared that while he loves Big Bird, he wasn't willing to "borrow money from China" to fund PBS. "Unemployed Big Bird" instantly emerged as a meme. Within a few days, President Obama's campaign created an ad with Big Bird portrayed as an "evil genius" who is a menace to the economy. Sesame Workshop eventually requested Obama's campaign remove the ad, saying the show does not participate in politics.

Sex crime allegations against Kevin Clash, aka Elmo

Kevin Clash began voicing the beloved character Elmo
Photo Credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Kevin Clash began voicing the beloved character Elmo in 1982, and starred in the 2011 documentary "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey." But in 2012, Clash resigned from "Sesame Street" after he was accused of sexual abusing multiple men more than 10 years earlier. When he resigned, Clash said in a statement "I have loved every day of my 28 years working for this exceptional organization." The case was dismissed in 2014 after a judge said the statue of limitations had passed.


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