What began Sunday night as a simple series of tweets from one musician has quickly snowballed into a widespread web of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against one man: Heathcliff Berru, founder of the successful music PR firm Life or Death (full disclosure: SPIN has worked with Life or Death on many projects). The now-former publicist to artists like Killer Mike and Odd Future has been accused of a range of sexually inappropriate behaviors by many women, and those speaking out against him are no longer staying silent.
Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors opened the floodgates on Monday when she tweeted, “A very popular music publicist RUBBED my ass and BIT my hair at a bar a couple of years ago,” later specifying the publicist in question was Berru. “The people I told were very supportive,” Coffman stated in an e-mail to SPIN, adding, “But to a degree, a lot of people who work in the music industry feel their hands are tied. They do not feel able to speak up about a lot of things for fear of damaging their careers and livelihood. So they supported me, but nothing went public.”
Following her initial tweets, music publicist Beth Martinez also accused Berru of assaulting her, detailing an alleged incident from December of 2009. “He repeatedly put his hand down my shirt while driving me home after I told him to stop many times,” she wrote on Twitter, later claiming she also believed Berru had possibly roofied her in February of 2012. She, like Coffman, was hesitant to speak out immediately about her experience with Berru. “I think I might have told [a publicist friend],” Martinez stated in an e-mail to SPIN. “She responded with something like ‘that has happened to a lot of women.’…It took me years to tell anyone. I only told our mutual friend that introduced us a year or two ago. He was shocked but also not too surprised. He remained friends with Cliff.”
Musician Roxy Lange also shared on Twitter that she had been assaulted by Berru: “[Berru] sexually assaulted me when I first moved to NYC in 2007,” she said in an email sent to SPIN but first reported by Brooklyn Magazine. “I was 21 years-old (I turn 30 this March). He kept trying to force me to give him a blowjob in a cab and wouldn’t stop pushing my head into his lap forcefully, with his pants unzipped and penis out in the open. After I got out of the cab, he followed me up 3 flights of stairs and forced his way into my apartment, attempting to force himself on me but he was luckily too drunk and coked up to get hard so he gave up. He then pissed himself and fell asleep in my bed while I laid there, a very drunk 21 year-old experiencing NY nightlife for the first time, absolutely horrified that happened to me.”
Musicians and other industry insiders have since come forward in solidarity with Coffman, Martinez, Lange and the other women who have accused Berru of assault and harassment. Since Monday night, Motormouth PR founder Judy Silverman, Bonnaroo and Outside Lands coordinator Martika Finch, Yasmine Kittles of TEARIST, and Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast all tweeted about having known about Berru’s alleged misconduct. Wavves, who were represented by Life or Death, seem to have fired the firm via Twitter after the allegations against Berru came to light. DIIV, Beach Fossils, D’Angelo, Kelela and Speedy Ortiz have also stated they will no longer be working with the company.
Following the allegations, Life or Death president Nick Dierl issued a statement via email explaining that Berru has since resigned from the firm:
“We are taking measures to ensure that the alleged behavior did not, and will not, make its way into company operations or impact our commitment to promoting art and assisting our clients,” Dierl wrote. “We are grateful to Heathcliff Berru for all the work he’s done to date and his creative vision at the company. We appreciate and support his decision to step down as CEO of Life Or Death.”
Several direct requests by SPIN for comment were ignored, but Berru issued his own statement to LA Weekly, part of which is excerpted here:
There have been several reports about my alleged inappropriate behavior which deserve a response. I am deeply sorry for those who I have offended by my actions and how I have made certain women feel. If I crossed the line of decency or respectfulness in situations when I was drunk and under the influence, there is no excuse of course. To be clear, while my conduct may have been inappropriate, I have never drugged anyone or engaged in that type of behavior. Nevertheless, I do not want to be the type of person who would let drugs or alcohol take command of his life and compromise how he treats people. Yet I have been this person and it’s time to put a stop to all of this. Create a world with one less inappropriate man.
I have been fighting a losing battle against drugs and alcohol for many years and will be checking into a rehabilitation facility in the hope that I can improve my chances of winning that fight. A year ago, I was confronted by a peer and began to try to clean up and make things right with therapy and with an eye towards quitting the addiction. The shame and sadness feels as strong now as it did then and I am making an immediate change.
In no way do these allegations reflect on Life or Death PR, its staff, or anyone associated with the company. These are my issues, not theirs. I could not be more proud of the company and what it stands for. That being said I have stepped down as the CEO and [am] relinquishing all responsibility to the current president, Nick Dierl. The company shouldn’t have to deal with this distraction and I want Nick and the rest of the team to continue to do their good work while I take care of myself.
Berru’s apology has only garnered more condemnation from his alleged victims, some of whom suggest the publicist is using addiction as an excuse for his reported reprehensible behavior.
By and large, the public response from musicians, publicists, and writers has been supportive of the women in question. “You do not need to be afraid for your career by giving in to men who try to hold power over you,” Martinez said in an email to SPIN. “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, that is your instinct telling you that it’s not a good situation. You can listen to your gut. That is why it’s there. You’re not wrong for thinking someone is a creep who is making you feel creeped out.”