A Nashville publicity firm with some of the biggest names in country music, Webster PR, is seeing a mas exodus of its clients after several men came forward with sexual assault and harassment allegations against president and CEO Kirt Webster.
The growing list of high profile names to leave in the past week include flagship star Dolly Parton as well as Cyndi Lauper, Billy Ray Cyrus, Kid Rock, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Kiefer Sutherland, Hank Williams Jr., Kenny G, Tanya Tucker, Big & Rich and KC and the Sunshine Band, among others.
The unraveling of arguably one of the most powerful PR houses in country started when former client and one-time aspiring singer Austin Rick, who also used the stage name Austin Cody, last week accused Webster of drugging and sexually assaulting him in 2008.
Dolly Parton was Webster PR’s flagship artist, and was one of the first to leave after allegations against Kirt Webster (right) came to light
Kid Rock (left) and Randy Travis (right) also left Webster PR, the company’s enormous roster dwindled from 71 to 37 before being deleted completely
The cascade of allegations began flooding in after Rick came forward with his claims.
Three other men have come forward including a former household contractor who alleges that Webster molested him during a job interview in 2009, a former office manager who claims Webster twice groped him in 2014 and a former personal assistant who alleged he was subject to unwanted touching and verbal abuse in 2015.
It wasn’t just the stars that left Webster PR, his employees ran for the hills too. Several of his employs left over the past week. One former employee, Scott Adkins, has also started his own firm after resigning Wednesday morning according to Yahoo.
Meanwhile a slew of former employees have alleged sexual harassment as well.
Billy Ray Cyrus and Cyndi Lauper also left Kirt Webster’s company following the growing allegations
The once aspiring country music singer, Rick, says Webster told him ”I want there to be fireworks in your career, but only if there’s fireworks between us.” And that was like pretty early on in our relationship.’
Rick told Nashville Scene ‘I was finishing high school when I made a little demo.’ Before he knew it ‘I started working with Kirt. It didn’t take long before I was trapped in a hellhole that I could not get out of,’ Rick says.
‘I trusted him completely, and he wanted to make me a star just long enough to sexually molest and abuse me.’
At the height of the alleged abuse, Rick says he was at a party at Webster’s house for an Easter party in 2008.
They were in Webster’s hot tub when he claims the PR guru began ‘reaching up underneath my bathing shorts and fondling my genitals, and smiling and winking at me, while I’m just sitting there.’
Later after some drinks, Rick says he woke up in Webster’s bed.
‘He was hugging me, kissing me all over my face and mouth, and neck and lips.’
‘I know I was sexually assaulted, I don’t know if I was raped,’ Rick says. ‘When I woke up in his bed, I knew after that I had to leave.’
Rick claims as a result of mental anguish stemming from the alleged abuse that: ‘For years, I was so ashamed, and since then, I’ve overdosed once and I’ve slit my wrists another time,’ Rick says to Nashville Scene.
‘I’ve been in therapy for seven years. I just want to try to get some validation that I am still a worthwhile person, while at the same time, making sure that no other victim is his again.’
Meanwhile, Nashville Metro Police says they are looking into the allegations made by Rick.
The artist number on Webster PR’s site dwindled from 71 clients to 37 by Thursday, before the once sparkling client list was completed deleted from the site altogether by the afternoon.
More than a dozen former employees have also come forward telling their own stories of emotionally abusive or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, and viewings of pornography in the office.
Through a spokesperson, Webster has denied Rick’s claims: ‘As a single adult, Mr. Webster has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual. This includes a brief relationship with Mr. Rick. It saddens Mr. Webster that nine years later, after Mr. Rick’s music career has been stagnant, Mr. Rick has taken the opportunistic approach of mischaracterizing that relationship and posting untrue allegations.’
It was also revealed on Tuesday the Webster PR site had shut down but posted a statement they were not closed for business:
‘Earlier today, it was mistakenly posted on the Webster Public Relations’ website that the firm has been closed. This was stated incorrectly. Webster Public Relations will continue operating – but under the name Westby Public Relations – while Kirt Webster takes some time away from the business to focus on combating the egregious and untrue allegations made against him. The company’s work on behalf of its clients will continue under the leadership of Jeremy Westby, Kirt’s longstanding colleague.’