Russell Simmons, founder of the rap music label Def Jam Recordings, is stepping down both from that company and his clothing line Phat Farm following accusations of sexual assault, including from screenwriter-actress Jenny Lumet, the daughter of legendary film director Sidney Lumet. Later on Thursday, HBO announced it was severing ties with him.
On Thursday Simmons, 60, issued a lengthy statement that said in part: “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 and humbly apologize.”
The Queens native went on to say that in order not to be a distraction at the companies he founded, he was removing himself.
“I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening,” Simmons said in his statement.
HBO subsequently announced it was dropping Simmons’ name from the cable network’s new standup-comedy showcase, “All Def Comedy.” Saying the show will premiere Friday at 10 p.m. as scheduled, it added that Simmons, an executive producer, “will not appear in the new series and we will be removing his name from the show moving forward. The series 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.”
Simmons’ 1992-1997 HBO series “Def Comedy Jam” had “helped launch the careers of a host of today’s comedy superstars,” the network said in a news release earlier this month. “Def Comedy Jam” returned in 2006, and was followed last year by the spinoff special “All Def Comedy.”
Lumet, 50, whose mother is journalist Gail Lumet Buckley and whose grandmother was singer Lena Horne, wrote a 1,600-word guest column in The Hollywood Reporter, published Thursday, describing in detail a sexual assault she said Simmons committed against her in 1991. Lumet’s account followed similar accusations leveled by model Keri Claussen Khalighi in the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 19.
Simmons denied Khalighi’s claims, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I have never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life. I would never knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone.”