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Russell Simmons Steps Down From Businesses Amid Sexual Attack Allegations


The music mogul Russell Simmons is stepping down from leadership of his companies after being accused of a sexual attack. Simmons turned a thriving career as a music producer into a corporate empire. And joining us now is NPR arts correspondent Elizabeth Blair. Hi, Elizabeth.


GREENE: And I guess you and I should warn listeners that what we're about to talk about could involve some disturbing language.

BLAIR: That's correct.

GREENE: So listeners are now warned. I guess, could you start, for people who don't know, just reminding us who Russell Simmons is?

BLAIR: Some people would call Russell Simmons the king of hip hop. I mean, he founded Def Jam Recordings. He was very involved with Run DMC. He started a fashion label, comedy. He's - when it comes to urban culture, he's way up there.

GREENE: A force in the entertainment industry, to say the least. OK, so let's get to this news. Who is making this accusation and what exactly is she saying Simmon's did?

BLAIR: Yeah. Jenny Lumet - she's a screenwriter. She's best known for "Rachel Getting Married." She - and she's also Sidney Lemut's daughter, the filmmaker, and Lena Horne's granddaughter. And she writes an open letter in The Hollywood Reporter today to Russell Simmons saying - sort of recounting their relationship.

She met him in the late 1980s. She writes that it was a friendly relationship. But then one night he offered her a ride home from a club where she was working. And she thought he was - she was getting a ride home. And then he told his driver, no, don't take her there, take her here. And then the driver left. And she and Russell Simmons - he pretty much forced her to this - into this location - it may have been his apartment - and forcibly sexually attacked her.

GREENE: So she's making this accusation in - it sounds like, in what was an open letter to him. That was the format of...

BLAIR: That's correct. It's very detailed. It's, quite frankly, sad and terrifying. And it sounds like they had a friendly relationship. He really admired Lena Horne, her grandmother - and that she respected him. She does say that he - it was clear that he had a crush on her. He once sent her 250 balloons - sort of was pursuing her over the years. But she, you know, rebuffed him or just laughed it off. And then this one night this happened.

GREENE: And so those are the accusations. What is Simmons saying at this point? Is he admitting any wrongdoing here?

BLAIR: Well, so - other women have recently accused him of sexual misconduct, and he denied those allegations. But today, in light of this letter by Jenny Lumet, he says he's going to step aside from the companies he founded, removing himself from those businesses. He says he does not remember that night the way that Lumet does but that he apologizes for being thoughtless and insensitive.

GREENE: OK, Elizabeth, thanks very much for that reporting.

BLAIR: All right, thank you.

GREENE: That's Elizabeth Blair. She is NPR's arts correspondent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline may have implied that Russell Simmons was head of Def Jam. He left the company in 1999.
David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.