Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons on Thursday stepped down from the companies he founded, amid a new sexual misconduct allegation against him.
In an essay published Thursday by the Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Jenny Lumet wrote that the Def Jam co-founder forced her to go to his apartment in 1991 and then have sex with him. Her account follows last week’s Los Angeles Times story, in which Keri Claussen Khalighi alleged that when she was a 17-year-old model in 1991, Simmons sexually assaulted her while director Brett Ratner watched.
While Simmons had strongly disputed Khalighi’s account, he announced Thursday his exit from his various companies in light of Lumet’s essay.
“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,” Simmons said in a statement to THR. “While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships over many decades and I sincerely apologize.”
He added: “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.”
Lumet, who wrote 2017’s “The Mummy” and 2008’s “Rachel Getting Married,” wrote that she became friendly with Simmons in 1987 and he “lightly” pursued her, which she rebuffed but “it was never a big deal.” In 1991, she was 24 and Simmons offered her a ride home from a restaurant.
But once in the car, she wrote, Simmons told the driver to ignore Lumet’s directions to her home, and instead took her to his apartment where he groped and had intercourse with her. She had protested, saying, “Wait, wait,” but she also feared for her safety, she said.
Lumet wrote that she didn’t tell anyone of the encounter until Oct. 27, 2017, after the stories about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
“There is so much guilt, and so much shame,” Lumet wrote. “There is an excruciating internal reckoning. As a woman of color, I cannot express how wrenching it is to write this about a successful man of color. Again, shame about who I was years ago, choices made years ago. In this very moment, I feel a pang to protect your daughters. I don’t think you are inclined to protect mine.”
The daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the granddaughter of legend Lena Horne, Lumet wrote that she and Simmons ran into each other again throughout the years, including at awards shows where her father and grandmother were honored. “These were events that were supposed to be happy, and they were tainted,” she wrote.
Simmons acknowledged that he has known Lumet and her family and has “seen her several times over the years since the evening she described.” In his statement, he said he will not only “step aside” from his ventures but also “commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”
It’s a different tone from the one Simmons took following Khalighi’s allegations, when he said, “I completely and unequivocally deny the horrendous allegations of non-consensual sex against me with every fiber of my being.”
In that lengthy statement, Simmons referred to himself as a “long-time social activist” who has “applauded the strength of the brave men and women” who have publicly shared stories of sexual assault. He also said he was a supporter for the #MeToo campaign.
Also in the L.A. Times story was the account of Tanya Reid, who in 1994 was an aspiring model working at a Miami hotel. She told the paper that Simmons pestered her and asked if she could come to his room so Ratner could hold her down while Simmons performed oral sex on her.
Ratner, through his attorney, denied the allegations. Simmons said, “I mean no disrespect to her at all when I say I honestly do not recall my telephone conversation with a hotel front desk clerk from over a quarter-century ago.”
Simmons joins other high-profile men who in recent weeks have been accused of a range of sexual misconduct, such as workplace harassment and rape. From comedy, to news, to movies, men at the top of their respective fields have been fired and removed from projects and have tried to disappear from the spotlight.
As a co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, Simmons helped introduce hip-hop culture to the mainstream, and has had ventures throughout entertainment, including fashion, movies and TV.
In recent years, Simmons has presented himself as an activist who promotes mindfulness, yoga and various causes. He’s received accolades for his work as chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which promotes relations among Jewish, Muslim and black communities, and has previously served as a United Nations Goodwill ambassador.
As he announced his exit from his companies Thursday, Simmons also said he will convert his “studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing.”