Father’s Day didn’t go exactly as planned for Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons.
Over the weekend, long-standing tensions between him, his ex-wife, Kimora Lee Simmons, and his daughters came to a head, exploding on social media. It started when the former couple’s eldest daughter, Ming, wished her mother a happy Father’s Day on her Instagram story, setting Russell off.
He responded by sharing an Instagram story that read:
“Stop telling fathers they should have fought harder to see their children & start asking mothers why he had to fight at all.”
That post was followed by another that read:
“The father you have is the perfect father for the evolution of your soul and the lessons that you needed to learn in this lifetime.”
Kimora, who, up until this point, has remained tight-lipped about the strained relationship with her ex-husband, opened up in an emotional Instagram live, breaking down into tears as she discussed her and her daughters’ ongoing struggle, begging Russell to leave her and their girls alone.
“I’m just asking that you please leave us alone,” she said. “I’ve tried to go to lawyers and get help. I tried to show them all the crazy texts. I have receipts of all of this. Receipts of your office saying you sent flowers to yourself [in her name] without my permission. I have all of this. You guys have never seen it because it doesn’t warrant or rise to that occasion. I mind my own business. But please, don’t attack my children.”
Yesterday, Ming’s younger sister, Aoki, began sharing screenshots of conversations between her and her dad to help people understand the severity of the situation. The messages show Russell accusing his ex-wife of stealing his money.
“I’m out here praying for you and hoping everything goes well. And you call my mother a piece of s–t. … Don’t ever say that again. She DID NOT STEAL IT. YOU LOST IT,” Aoki’s response read.
Russell is referring to a 2021 lawsuit he filed against Kimora and her second husband, Tim Leissner. Russell alleges she attempted to fraudulently transfer his nearly four million Celsius shares to their accounts to help pay Tim’s legal and bail fees after he was charged in a 2018 money laundering case.
Aoki posted a screenshot of a lengthy message she sent to her dad, informing him that she quit speaking to him because he was giving her “panic attacks” and subsequently was placed on emergency medication each time they spoke. She also shared a muted video of Russell visibly yelling to back up her claims that their phone calls were always filled with hostility.
At first glance, a lot of the comments seem to be in resounding agreement with Kimora and her daughters. This is especially the case among fans who have been following the family since the early 2000s when they shared parts of their personal life on shows like Run’s House and Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane.
But sprinkled throughout the comments expressing support for the three women were fans who seemed to chalk all of this up to “rich people problems” while others expressed shock and disbelief over these revelations about his character. Perhaps they’ve been hoodwinked by Russell, who is well-known for his vegan lifestyle and daily meditation practices.
Russell fled to Bali (a country that coincidentally does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.) in February of 2018 after being accused of rape and sexual misconduct in 2017. Since then, more than 10 women have come forward with these allegations. This 2017 New York Times article recounts the horrifying experiences of four women who spoke on record about Russell’s (alleged) violent sexual behaviour. Some of the women described feeling powerless due to his high rank in the music industry and the fear that they would be blacklisted from their professions.
The fear of being blacklisted is something Russell’s own daughter, Aoki, revealed she might be facing as a result of her ongoing spat with her dad. In February, Aoki was interviewed by The Cut to talk about taking a break from classes at Harvard to model in New York Fashion Week. Now, though, she says she may have to resort to a career in criminal justice if her father intervenes with her success in fashion as a result of their spat, which she says he’s threatened to do.
While Kimora was on Instagram live, Aoki also went live on her own channel, breaking down in tears over their ongoing dispute with Russell and fondly recalling when times were better.
“I used to be very close to my dad. He used to be a good co-parent, close to my mom, my stepdad, he’s the godfather to my little brothers,” she explained through tears. “We all went on vacation together every year, like, very close – well after the divorce. Everyone was really happy. And then he suddenly decided that if we don’t agree, it’s ‘You’re all bitches like your mother, I hate you.’ He’s just a different person.”
She went on to suggest that she believes Russell is suffering from a mental health crisis, hinting at the possibility of his age fueling his erratic behaviour.
Another thought expressed by people in the comment sections following along with the family drama is that if Kimora really did steal money from their stocks to help Tim out, that they can understand his frustration. Sure – but the kids have asked repeatedly to be left out of the lawsuit, and the snapshots of their conversations with their dad prove that he’s still roping them into it.
Though it doesn’t appear that the case has gone to a U.S. court just yet, there are rumblings that whatever she did was entirely legal, and her response to his lawsuit suggests he is indebted to her.
Her reps told PEOPLE magazine the following in 2021:
“This extortion attempt is especially egregious given that Russell remains contractually in debt to Kimora for millions of dollars in unpaid business loans. Our team is actively working to put a firm end to his harassment, which continues despite Russell having fled the country—he will face his own reckoning in the U.S. court.”
One commenter made an interesting point about millennial kids holding their parents accountable. And it’s absolutely true for non-famous families and famous families alike. We’ve seen it with the Miller family, which I wrote about here, and Brian McKnight’s family, which I wrote about here. But it’s especially true in a case like this, where Russell’s reputation has worsened – severely – in recent years, and these women don’t seem to want anything more than distance. The warning signs have been there from the beginning of his relationship with Kimora, which started when she was underage. Even Terry Crews tried to sound the alarm about Russell asking him to give his alleged abuser “a pass”, which Lainey wrote about here.
Despite his past success in using his rank to get his way on numerous occasions, it’s getting harder for him – and so many other abusers – to escape the consequences of past behaviour. And now that his own kids are calling him out over the impact his actions are having on their lives and mental health, his uphill climb to clearing his name is about to get even steeper.