Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons has announced that he will remove himself from all of his companies in the wake of the sexual assault accusations made against him in recent weeks, the latest of which comes from former actress and writer Jenny Lumet. In a recent column for The Hollywood Reporter, Lumet, the screenwriter of Rachel Getting Married (and the daughter of director Sidney Lumet), shared an open letter to Simmons in which she detailed a prolonged romantic pursuit by Simmons that quickly turned aggressive one harrowing night in 1991, when Simmons offered her a ride home in his car, then locked the doors and instructed his driver to take them to his apartment instead.
From there, Lumet writes, Simmons maneuvered her inside and forced himself on her, ultimately penetrating her against her will. Lumet says she’d kept the story to herself for years, but felt compelled to write the letter as a response to Simmons’ recent denial of similar allegations made by then-17-year-old model Keri Claussen Khaligi, who said that Simmons and director Brett Ratner had also coerced her into performing sexual acts. Another woman, Tanya Reid, says Simmons also pressured her into performing oral sex on Ratner, something Simmons has also denied.
In a new statement to THR, Simmons responded to Lumet’s allegations, writing:
I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991. 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 apologize.
This is a time of great transition. The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. 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.
In Lumet’s letter, she concurs that she and Simmons saw each other “socially many times” since the assault took place, during which she says she “strove for an affect of normalcy,” despite her feeling that “these were events that were supposed to be happy, and they were tainted.” Lumet says that it was only in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein fallout and the subsequent flood of other allegations that she revealed her experience to a friend and, finally, chose to speak out publicly on behalf of Simmons’ other accusers.
“I don’t recall ever meeting any of the women who have spoken out against you, Russell,” Lumet writes. “But I can’t leave those women twisting in the wind. Maybe the recalling of this incident can be helpful. I don’t know if it can.”
Simmons—who sold his share of Def Jam Recordings to Universal in 1998, then also sold his successful clothing line, Phat Farm, in 2004—is the founder of Rush Communications, a holding company with wide-ranging ventures that include the fashion brands Argyleculture and American Classice Eyewear, the yoga brand Tantris, the long-running Def Comedy Jam franchise and the film production company Def Pictures, the pop culture site GlobalGrind, and RushCard, a prepaid debit card.
UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.: HBO has announced that it is severing its ties with Simmons as well, removing him and his name from future episodes of the All Def Comedy series. (Simmons co-founded the Def Jam franchise with Def Comedy Jam in 1992.) In a statement released to Deadline, the network says, “[All Def Comedy] is a platform for promising and upcoming comedians and we do not want to deprive them of an opportunity to showcase their talents to a national audience. We have no other projects with Russell Simmons.”