Def Jam founder Russell Simmons has stepped down from his position as head of the label, as well as from his communications company, Rush Communications, in the wake of new allegations against him by screenwriter Jenny Lumet, who penned a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter in which she accused the mogul of forcing her to have sex with him in the early 1990s.
Lumet was compelled to share her story after Simmons was accused, along with producer Brett Ratner, of being complicit and an active participant in the 1991 assault of Keri Claussen Khalighi, a then-17-year-old up-and-coming model and actress who claimed the producer forcibly removed her clothes while Ratner looked on. Simmons denied those allegations, saying in a statement that “everything that occurred” between them was consensual.
Lumet said her assault happened around the same time, after Simmons pursued her, “lightly, on and off,” for several years. “Once you sent me 250 balloons with the note “Please baby, please baby, baby, baby, baby” after a character in a Spike Lee movie,” Lumet wrote, saying she didn’t think much of it at the time.
According to Lumet, she accepted a ride from Simmons one night after they wound up at the same restaurant. But instead of taking her home, he had his driver take them back to his apartment, against her wishes. Once there, Lumet alleged, he forced her to have intercourse.
“You didn’t punch me, drag me or verbally threaten me. You used your size to maneuver me, quickly, into the elevator,” she wrote. “I said, ‘Wait. Wait.’ I felt dread. I was very, very sad.”
Simmons has responded to Lumet’s allegations, saying in a statement, “I know Jenny and her family and have seen her several times over the years since the evening she described. While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real. While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely and humbly apologize.”
The statement continued: “As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded. The companies will now be run by a new and diverse generation of extraordinary executives who are moving the culture and consciousness forward. I will convert the studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing. As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning, and above all to listening.”
Simmons founded his record label Def Jam with the help of his brother’s rap group, legends Run-DMC. In the intervening years, Simmons has become a name associated with health and wellness, as well as a leader in fashion. His Phat Farm label is one of the most successful streetwear lines ever.
In addition to the recent allegations, actor Terry Crews publicly called him out earlier this month, claiming that Simmons urged him to drop accusations of assault against Hollywood executive Adam Venit. Crews brought receipts.
(photo via Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Fast Company)