Russell was born in Manhattan, to Maria (née Muzio) and Bernard (Markovski) Russell. His parents worked for Simon & Schuster; his father was the vice president of sales for the company and his mother was a secretary there. His father was from a Russian Jewish family and his mother was Italian American (of Lucanian descent). Russell's maternal grandparents were Frank Muzio, born in Craco, and Philomena Brancata, born in Ferrandina, both in the province of Matera. His paternal grandfather, a butcher from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, lost many of his relatives in concentration camps.