After a summer of erratic behavior and brushes with the law, entrepreneur Will Russell is in inpatient treatment for mental health issues he’s openly discussed over the years. (The C-J’s Jeffrey Lee Puckett detailed these struggles in a Sept. 25 story interviewing both Russell and his family.)
While Russell is getting help, a handful of employees are struggling to keep his businesses running.
Both of Russell’s WHY Louisville stores are open, but the business is not in good standing with the Secretary of State and was administratively dissolved on Sept. 12 for not filing its 2015 Annual Report within 60 days of its due date. A week later, the business name was snapped up by Cyndi Masters, CEO of DBS Interactive.
Turns out she’s protecting the name. Asked what she planned to do with it, she said she would not make the stores stop using the name.
“Not if Will Russell gets well and is at the helm,” she told IL. “I don’t want the stores to disappear; it’s important to Louisville, and I love Louisville. (As you know from all of my ‘why Louisville is awesome’ infographics).”
There is a note in the company’s Secretary of State file from Sept. 25 from the Division of Unemployment Insurance that states the business in good standing with that office.
The WHY Louisville website now redirects to the store’s Facebook page.
Then there’s Lebowski Fest, which Russell launched in Louisville in 2002 to celebrate the cult film “The Big Lebowski.” The festival was such a success that it took off nationwide and has been held in more than 30 cities.
However, in a recent email that went out to Lebowski Fest fans, festival manager Tyler Gill apologized for delinquent orders from the website and explained that founder Will Russell’s much-publicized mental health struggle has caused “Lebowski Fest operations to slide to a screeching halt.”
In his email, Gill explained that he briefly left the company in order for Russell to get help. Upon entering inpatient treatment, Russell asked Gill to come back, and he agreed. Currently Gill is the only employee of Lebowski Fest.
Gill described Russell’s issues as “very serious,” further stating: “The Achievers (aka, “Big Lebowski” fans) are more than just customers to us. We all share a great sense of community that Will and I both truly cherish.”
IL reached out to Gill for comment, but he did not reply.
Then there’s Russell’s short-lived theme park, Funtown Mountain, in Cave City, Ky. Funtown remains closed by the authorities both because it was deemed “unsafe” after Russell vandalized the property last month and because he is behind on his loan payments.
According to the Glasgow Times, in September Russell was served with 12 code enforcement violations, all of which deal with maintaining the upkeep of the property and keeping it safe and sanitary.
Russell has two $250,000 loans — one from South Central Bank and one from Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. South Central Bank has filed a civil suit against Russell and is “exercising its right to accelerate the debt.”
IL asked Gil Lawson, spokesman for the state tourism cabinet, about the status of Funtown Mountain. He told us nothing has changed since we checked in with him on Sept. 2. No loan payments have been made.
When Russell is cleared by doctors, he faces trial in three different counties for four arrests on charges ranging from drug possession to attempt to bribe an official.