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The downfall of Armie Hammer, explained

House of Hammer is the latest entry in the Armie Hammer true crime scandal.

Armie Hammer attends the 2018 Hollywood Film Awards in Beverly Hills, California.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for HFA
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Editor’s note, May 31, 2023: The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has announced it will not charge Hammer over allegations of sexual assault. Hammer’s statement can be found on Instagram. Our story on Hammer, originally published in March 2021 and last updated in August 2022, follows.

On September 2, 2021, Discovery+ will premiere The House of Hammer, a docuseries exploring the alleged misdeeds of the wealthy family of Hollywood actor Armie Hammer. The new series is the latest in a string of ongoing disgraces to Hammer, who went from a Golden Globe nominee in 2018 to a man accused of abuse and sexual assault in 2021.

In March of 2021, Hammer, who is most famous for his role in the 2018 film Call Me By Your Name, was accused by a woman named Effie of violent rape and physical abuse throughout their four-year on-and-off relationship. In December of the same year, the LAPD wrapped the case without pressing charges after a nine-month investigation. After Hammer apparently spent some time selling timeshares in the Cayman Islands, according to Variety, he is now reported to be back in LA.

Yet Effie’s accusations were only the culmination of several months of cloudy rumors and scandal swirling around Hammer, rumors that at first appeared to be more entertaining nonsense than career-ending and potentially criminal accusations. When an anonymously run Instagram account first began to leak what appeared to be Hammer’s sexts in January 2021, early reports tended to linger on the salacious detail that Hammer apparently had a cannibalism kink. At the time, a casual observer could easily conclude that Hammer was dealing with a low-stakes case of harmless and juicy celebrity gossip.

But as time went on, and women who said they’d had past relationships with Hammer continued to discuss their stories on social media, it became clear that they were accusing the actor of much more serious behavior than a harmless consensual kink. They were accusing him of manipulation and psychological abuse.

The story would lead to Hammer getting dropped by his agent, departing from multiple projects, and apparently starting a new career as a timeshare salesman. When Death on the Nile, likely to be his final film, came out in July, Hammer was all but erased from the publicity push. Now, he and his family scandal are at the center of their own true crime streaming show.

Here’s what you need to know to understand the Armie Hammer story, and the downfall of one of Hollywood’s hottest movie stars.

Armie Hammer’s family background includes lots of money, lots of dysfunction, and lots of sexual sadism

Armand Hammer, great-grandfather of Armie Hammer, outside a gallery in Stockholm exhibiting part of his art collection in 1979.
Keystone Features/Getty Images

Armand “Armie” Hammer comes from a background of immense privilege and immense dysfunction. He’s an heir to the Occidental Petroleum fortune, and in 2009, he was photographed in a Vanity Fair spread of heirs and heiresses that included Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. His great-grandfather, also named Armand Hammer, invested in Arm & Hammer baking soda to make a joke about the name. That’s the kind of money we’re dealing with here.

And as detailed in a recent Vanity Fair article by Julie Miller, the Hammer fortune is linked to some pretty messed-up family patterns.

The first Armand Hammer, who made the family fortune, was closely connected to Soviet Russia: Lenin at one point encouraged Stalin to lend Armand “particular support” so as to develop a path to “the American ‘business’ world.” He also laundered money, made an illegal contribution to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign that most likely went directly to paying for the Watergate cover-up, and was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush for the illegal contributions.

Most relevant to our interests here, the elder Armand’s relationships with women and with his children were reportedly very unpleasant. Miller chronicles how Armand pushed his lover of over 10 years to legally change her name; wear wigs, glasses, and makeup to change her appearance; drive a car with a homing device and use a tapped phone; and submit to sexual demands she found “extremely humiliating.” Armand assured her he would take care of her after he died. Instead, he left her out of his will.

Armand would similarly pass over his son Julian — Armie’s grandfather — and instead leave his business empire to Michael, Armie’s father. Miller’s Vanity Fair piece details the uneven backgrounds of both Julian and Michael, which include misdeeds ranging from merely sordid to allegations of criminal activity.

At age 26, Julian killed a man over a gambling debt and pleaded self-defense; the charges were dropped. His daughter Casey, Armie’s aunt, has also accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a child and physically abusing other members of the family.

Michael, meanwhile, apparently frittered away pieces of the fortune he was left by his grandfather in a series of shady business deals. Per Vanity Fair, his biggest interests are partying and fairly kinky sex. Perhaps the most eye-popping part of the whole story is the description of Michael’s “sex throne,” which Michael’s lawyer assured Vanity Fair was one of numerous “unsolicited gag gifts sent by friends”:

The structure, about seven feet high, features a chair with a hole in the seat, a cage underneath, and a hook. The Hammer coat of arms—the same one that, for years, adorned the exterior of the headquarters—is painted on the seat. In one photo Michael sits atop the throne grinning while holding the head of a blonde woman, sitting in the cage and also smiling.

Out of this family background of money, abuses of power, and alleged sexual sadism came Armie Hammer, a man of impossible height and Ken doll-esque handsomeness, with the confidence and charisma particular to those born rich and beautiful. And Armie Hammer was going to be a movie star.

It took Armie Hammer a while to make it in Hollywood. And when he finally did, it was messy.

Actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer sit at an outdoor cafe in the movie “Call Me By Your Name.”
Armie Hammer with Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, the 2018 movie that made him a star.
Sony Pictures Classics

Hammer’s breakout role came in 2010’s The Social Network, in which he played against himself as the Winklevoss twins. That role would establish Hammer’s type: the rich and handsome asshole, the scion of WASP masculinity. But as detailed by Anne Helen Petersen in her 2017 BuzzFeed News article “Ten Long Years of Trying to Make Armie Hammer Happen,” it wouldn’t be until his role in 2018’s Call Me by Your Name, in which he plays the handsome American grad student who woos the young European Timothée Chalamet, that Hammer would reach legitimate stardom. And when talking about the long holding pattern of his career, Hammer tends to blame bad luck, bad timing, and a bad system.

“Armie Hammer didn’t happen for 10 long years because, according to his logic, the system was stacked against him,” Petersen wrote in 2017. “Well, of course it was: The ‘system,’ whether Hollywood or American capitalism in general, is stacked against basically everyone. But a small few, including Hammer’s own grandfather, figure out how to manipulate and survive it. What seems to annoy Hammer, then, is that he struggled the same way everyone else — the way women and actors of color in particular — struggle: with shitty options, with publicity that pigeonholes you, with people who only care about your looks, with machinations beyond your control.”

“Your perspective is bitter AF,” Hammer tweeted in response. His fans rose up after him, filling Petersen’s mentions with angry defenses of their fave.

Hammer’s response was unusual. Petersen, who holds a PhD in media studies, at the time specialized in analysis-heavy celebrity deconstructions: tracking a star’s career trajectory and taking it apart to see how it worked. (Petersen is now, among other things, a regular contributor to Vox.) Her Armie Hammer article was critical of the Hollywood system that afforded Hammer endless extra chances because of his wealth and his handsome white masculinity, but it wasn’t particularly critical of Hammer himself. Most stars wouldn’t have responded to an article as even-handed as Petersen’s so publicly.

But even then, at arguably the peak of his career, Armie Hammer had a reputation for getting a little messy on social media. In 2017, he liked a series of rope bondage tweets from his public account. In 2019, he posted a video to Instagram of his toddler sucking his toes and tagged it #footfetishonfleek. It was nothing too outré, but it was all arguably a little bit weird.

In June 2020, Hammer announced he was divorcing his wife of 10 years, the model Elizabeth Chambers. And then, in January 2021, the Armie Hammer social media sex stuff broke wide open.

At first, the Armie Hammer rumors looked like they were just embarrassing kink stories. Then the rumors got darker.

On January 10, 2021, an anonymous Instagram account named House of Effie, which has since been made private, leaked what appeared to be DMs and audio conversations with Hammer. In those DMs, Hammer appears to discuss a fetish for cannibalism, blood-drinking, and violent and dominating sex. Other women came forward on Instagram to share similar experiences with Hammer. (House of Effie shares a name with the Effie who accused Hammer of rape. Effie’s lawyer Gloria Allred has declined to confirm or deny if they are one and the same.)

The first wave of reaction to the leaks, primed in part by years of lots of people knowing that Armie Hammer posts his weird sex stuff on main, can be best summarized as “lol, cannibalism.” It was a scandalized and tittering response to learning about an embarrassing celebrity kink.

But it gradually became clear that women weren’t speaking out about Hammer to kink-shame him. And what they were describing did not sound at all like a fully consensual and harmless exploration of kink with a willing partner. In fact, it was starting to sound like one person exploring violent fetishes with multiple other people who were not into the idea or consenting, and going ahead and doing so anyway despite their misgivings.

“Do you think Armie is actually dangerous or is it all just kink stuff?” asked an onlooker.

“‘Kink stuff’ doesn’t include murder fantasies, or dangerous knife games (like a knife between your legs during sex) or cannibalistic fantasies,” replied one of Hammer’s accusers in a now-deleted Instagram post.

The gossip site Deux Moi posted unconfirmed claims that Hammer had a group chat with friends where he would share videos of his encounters with his partners without their consent, and that he routinely pushed boundaries, disregarded safe words, and made threats. Women who said they’d been in sexual relationships with Hammer posted similar accounts anonymously to social media, alleging that Hammer pushed them to participate in sexual activities that made them uncomfortable, and that they were still recovering emotionally from the trauma.

Some of Hammer’s exes were willing to speak on the record. Courtney Vucekovich told Page Six that she considered her relationship with Hammer emotionally abusive. “He sucks out all the goodness you have left,” she said. “That’s what he did to me. I gave and gave and gave until it hurt.” Vucekovich said that Hammer would text her up to 100 times per day when they were together, and that “He did some things with me that I wasn’t comfortable with.”

On January 13, the Daily Mail published a video of Hammer apparently drinking and doing drugs while driving. On the same day, he dropped out of the Jennifer Lopez rom-com Shotgun Wedding, in which he was set to star.

“I’m not responding to these bullshit claims but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for 4 months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic. Lionsgate is supporting me in this and I’m grateful to them for that,” Hammer said in a statement.

But the scandal was just beginning. On January 15, tabloids published what appeared to be Armie Hammer’s secret Instagram account. There, Hammer apparently posted videos of women in lingerie, bondage memes, and what appeared to be a boast about cheating on the drug test he was required to take before seeing his children after his divorce from Chambers.

“All negative, bitches,” he allegedly wrote in the drug test post. “My body is a finely tuned toxicant processing unit. To be fair I had THC and benzos in my piss. But who doesn’t.”

“Divorce is so fun. Not as fun as drugs. But what is.”

On January 28, Hammer announced that he was exiting the forthcoming Paramount+ series The Offer, about the making of The Godfather, in which he had been set to star. On February 5, the Hollywood Reporter found that Hammer had been dropped by his agency, WME, and by his publicist.

Armie Hammer’s career was officially in free fall.

Effie is accusing Hammer of emotional and physical abuse, including sexual assault

Effie, left, and Armie Hammer in 2016. Effie says she was involved with Hammer for four years and has accused him of rape.
Courtesy of Gloria Allred

Effie’s accusations against Hammer are the most serious by far of all the stories swirling around him. She is the only woman on the record accusing Hammer of rape.

In a press conference shortly after making her accusation, Effie said that she first met Hammer on Facebook in 2016, when she was 20, and that they were involved intermittently for four years. She said they were last in contact in 2020.

“I fell in love with him instantly,” Effie said in a prepared statement. “Looking back, it is now clear to me he was employing manipulation tactics in order to exert control over me, until I started to lose myself. He would often test my devotion to him, slyly removing and crossing my boundaries, as he became increasingly more violent. He abused me mentally, emotionally, and sexually.”

Eventually, Effie said, the violence became rape. “On April 24, 2017, Armie Hammer violently raped me for over four hours in Los Angeles,” she told reporters, “during which he repeatedly slapped my head against a wall, bruising my face. He also committed other acts of violence against me to which I did not consent.”

Effie said that in addition to the alleged rape, Hammer beat her feet with a crop “so they would hurt for the next week” with every step she took. She says she tried to get away, “but he wouldn’t let me.”

“I thought that he was going to kill me,” she said.

She added that the trauma she suffered after her relationship with Hammer ended was so intense that she considered taking her own life.

The LAPD investigation against Hammer ended without charges, with TMZ reporting that the case “isn’t strong.” Instead, Hammer’s case seems likely to play out in the court of public opinion, where brief stints in the Cayman Islands serve dubiously in place of jail sentences. House of Hammer is about to be the latest piece of evidence entered into that court.

Update, August 25, 2022: This story, originally published on March 19, 2021, has been updated throughout with new information, including the outcome of the LAPD investigation, developments in Hammer’s personal life, and news of the House of Hammer documentary.