NEW YORK – HBO distanced itself from Russell Simmons and scrubbed his name from a stand-up comedy series he helped produce on the eve of its debut following a second sexual misconduct allegation.
HBO said Thursday it will go ahead with Friday’s airing of “All Def Comedy” but will edit out any link to Simmons in the wake of allegations by screenwriter Jenny Lumet who claims that he had sex with her more than two decades ago despite her repeated demands that he stop.
“Simmons will not appear in the new series and we will be removing his name from the show moving forward,” read a statement by HBO, which had previously been home to the Simmons’ pioneering “Def Comedy Jam.” “We have no other projects with Russell Simmons.”
HBO has previously proved willing to sever ties with starry names amid allegations of sexual misconduct. After Louis C.K. was accused of harassment, HBO removed the comedian from its “Night of Too Many Stars” special and took down his previous standup specials and series from its on-demand services.
The latest allegations facing Simmons comes from Lumet, who co-wrote “The Mummy” in 2017 and “Rachel Getting Married” in 2008, wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday in which she recalled Simmons sexually violating her in 1991, when she was 24.
“I desperately wanted to keep the situation from escalating. I wanted you to feel that I was not going to be difficult. I wanted to stay as contained as I could,” wrote Lumet, the daughter of filmmaker Sidney Lumet.
Simmons said in a statement released after the essay’s publication that Lumet’s memory of the night is “very different” from his, but it’s clear to him “that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real.” He apologized for being “thoughtless and insensitive” in some of his relationships. He said he would resign from his businesses because, “I don’t want to be a distraction.”
Lumet wrote that she never told anyone about that night until last month after allegations lodged against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein unleashed a torrent of stories about sexual misbehavior in multiple fields.
Lumet said she went public after model Keri Claussen Khalighi said Simmons coerced her to perform a sex act and later penetrated her without her consent in his New York apartment in 1991.
Simmons, 60, denied those allegations, saying everything that occurred between himself and Khalighi was completely consensual and with her “full participation.” He suggested that Khalighi’s accusation came from feeling shame.
“I’m deeply saddened and truly shocked to learn of Keri’s assertions as to what happened over the course of that weekend,” Simmons said in the statement. He later wrote that he “never committed any acts of aggression or violence in my life” or would “never knowingly cause fear or harm to anyone.”
Hollywood figures including Debra Messing and Ron Perlman praised Lumet for coming forward. Messing on Twitter thanks Lumet for “bravely sharing your harrowing experience” and Perlman said: “Every man or woman having trouble understanding the ripples of this abhorrent behavior should read Ms. Lumet’s words.”
Def Jam Recordings was founded in 1984 by Simmons and Rick Rubin, making stars of such hip-hop artists as LL Cool J, Slick Rick, The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Its roster currently includes Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, Alessia Cara, Jeremih, Jeezy, Iggy Azalea, Big Sean, Nas and 2 Chainz.
Simmons’ empire includes the Argyleculture clothing line, Rush Communications, yoga studio Tantris, the energy drink Celsius and the film and television production company Def Pictures, along with several other philanthropic efforts like the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and the Diamond Empowerment Fund.
He was married to TV personality and designer Kimora Lee Simmons from 1998-2009 and they had two daughters. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Simmons is the latest figure in the entertainment world to have his career derailed by accusations of misconduct. The accused include Pixar and Disney Animation chief John Lasseter, actors Kevin Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor, writer-director James Toback and TV anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose.
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