Lil Peep’s Mother Sues Managers Over His Death

Before the rising emo-rapper Lil Peep was pronounced dead from an overdose on a tour bus in Tucson, Ariz., almost two years ago, he was “stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, exhausted and physically unwell,” according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

Rather than getting him help, the suit says, those who were meant to guide him instead pushed Lil Peep “onto stage after stage in city after city, plying and propping” him up with illegal drugs and unprescribed controlled substances as he spiraled further.

These were the explosive claims filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by Liza Womack, the rapper’s mother and the administrator of his estate, against First Access Entertainment, the talent agency and label that oversaw Lil Peep’s career after signing him to a three-year deal beginning when he was 19.

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages for negligence, breach of contract and wrongful death, named Sarah Stennett, First Access’s chief executive and a music industry power broker who has worked with the pop singers Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Zayn Malik; Bryant Ortega, known as Chase, a member of Lil Peep’s management team; and Belinda Mercer, who was hired as a tour manager for Lil Peep’s final tour in the fall of 2017. First Access Entertainment, or FAE, was founded in 2015 by Stennett and Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born billionaire whose conglomerate Access Industries owns Warner Music Group.

The defendants, including Stennett and First Access, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lil Peep (born Gustav Ahr) was on the forefront of a genre-bending movement and seemed on the verge of mainstream fame when he died at 21 in November 2017, making him just one in a handful of notable musicians who have overdosed on opioids in recent years; the synthetic drug fentanyl was also cited in the deaths of Prince, Tom Petty and Mac Miller. But Lil Peep’s is the first recent case in which an artist’s family has attempted to hold the music business itself responsible. There have been no criminal charges in connection to his death.

“This is something that I must do as a mother,” Womack said in an interview, citing her ongoing worry for young artists. “I feel very concerned that they not be exploited,” she said. “What Gus had to live through is actually horrifying to me, and I’m sure he’s not the only person his age in this situation.”

The suit contends that Stennett and her company “fostered, promoted and encouraged” drug use as a way to maintain control over Lil Peep and his tours. It paints the musician as an impressionable young man with no entertainment industry experience, who had put his trust in FAE “to guide him through this journey in a reasonable, ethical, and safe manner.” The company, the suit says, treated Lil Peep “as a commodity rather than as a human being” and pushed him “to the extreme bounds of what somebody of his age and maturity level could handle emotionally, mentally, and physically.”

Detailing specific incidents, the suit claims that Stennett gifted Lil Peep a bottle of pills at a group dinner in early 2017, and cites text messages in which she contacted him about drugs, writing, “I’m about to land at JFK. I have one 2m x and 4 x .25,” referring to two different doses of Xanax pills.

Mercer, the suit says, was in a sexual relationship with Lil Peep while working as his tour manager and provided him drugs, including ketamine. The lawsuit also describes an event on Oct. 25, 2017, a few weeks before Lil Peep’s death, in which Mercer was detained at the Canadian border after a search by drug-sniffing dogs. The suit alleges that Stennett was made aware of the incident and the potentially dangerous environment on tour but allowed the behavior to persist.

On the night Lil Peep died, Mercer and others associated with FAE saw him on the bus and noted “that he looked alarmingly unwell, but rather than seeking help or contacting authorities, Mercer instead elected to run a personal errand,” the suit claims.

Much of what was included in the lawsuit was previously reported by David Peisner in a Rolling Stone story about Lil Peep’s last days, published in March. In the article, Stennett denied through a lawyer that she had ever given Lil Peep any drug, and said she was merely trying to comfort him by offering pills that she had no intention of delivering. She also denied that she was aware of what drugs people were doing on the tour bus.

“I wasn’t there,” Stennett told Rolling Stone. “Anybody who takes drugs makes a decision to take a risk.” She and Ortega repeatedly told Lil Peep to seek counseling for his dependency, she said.

In an interview last year, Stennett told The New York Times that her work with Lil Peep had “restored my faith in a higher power,” adding that their relationship “made me understand there is a purpose to what I’m doing. It’s not just music, it’s a much bigger responsibility.”

Beyond the issue of whether his management team facilitated his drug use, to win the case Womack may need to convince a jury that the team did so purposefully, or at least that it had a duty to look out for his welfare and did not adequately do so.

Paul A. Matiasic, a lawyer for Womack, Lil Peep’s mother, said, “We acknowledge, obviously, that Gus had a role” in his own death. However, “In evaluating the legal responsibility for someone’s untimely death, it is not a binary decision,” he added, noting that juries in California could assign fault as they see appropriate. (For example, if a plaintiff is 90 percent responsible for their own injury, but the defendant is 10 percent responsible, the plaintiff can recover 10 percent of their damages from the defendant.)

FAE “had the power, they had the influence and control over Gus’s career, and specifically this tour,” Matiasic said. “There are duties associated with having that type of control.”

Gregory C. Keating, a torts professor at the University of Southern California, said that while allegations of record companies providing drugs to rock stars date back decades, and could be seen as a “common practice in a freewheeling industry,” that doesn’t mean an entertainment company could not be held liable.

“It’s a plausible complaint, because a court could reasonably decide that by providing a person with an addiction with prescription medication and illegal substances, they endangered his life, and that brought responsibility upon themselves,” he said.

“They would argue that they had no duty to protect him,” he continued, “but if you supply him and you know he’s got an addiction problem, that could trigger the application of a duty. This person is under your control to some extent, and you’re actually enabling them by doing things that you’re not authorized to do.”

Columbia Records, which released Lil Peep’s first posthumous album, “Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2,” declined to comment.

“Everybody’s Everything,” a documentary about Lil Peep’s life and death, is scheduled for release on Nov. 15, the second anniversary of his fatal overdose. The film, which bears the stamp of First Access Entertainment, includes Womack, the filmmaker Terrence Malick and Stennett as executive producers.

Joe Coscarelli is a culture reporter with a focus on pop music. His work seeks to pull back the curtain on how hit songs and emerging artists are discovered, made and marketed. He previously worked at New York magazine and The Village Voice. @joecoscarelli

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