Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett Biography

Singer (1983–)
Jussie Smollett started out in such 1990s films as 'The Mighty Ducks,' but these days he's found fame as Jamal Lyon on the hit TV drama 'Empire.'

Who Is Jussie Smollett?

Born in 1983, Jussie Smollett was just a child when he launched his acting career. Along with appearing in The Mighty Ducks (1992) and North (1994), he co-starred with his own siblings in the mid-1990s sitcom On Our Own. After a break, Smollett resurfaced as a singer with the 2012 EP Poisoned Hearts Club and as an actor with the film The Skinny. In 2015, he debuted his role as Jamal Lyon on the TV show Empire, a runaway ratings success, and also landed a recording contract with Columbia Records. The actor was arrested in early 2019 after allegedly arranging to be attacked by two men and filing a false report, though the charges were soon dropped.

Early Career

Born on June 21, 1983 in Santa Rosa, California, actor and singer Jussie Smollett started performing at an early age. One of his first roles was in the 1992 popular kids hockey movie The Mighty Ducks, starring Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson. As he later told People magazine, working on the film "was a great experience." Smollett then appeared in the 1993 TV miniseries Queen, based on a book by Alex Haley, playing the son of the title character (Halle Berry).

In 1994, Smollett starred with his real-life brothers and sisters in the sitcom On Our Own. He and his five siblings played children who were orphaned after the death of their parents and Ralph Louis Harris played their oldest brother who tried to look after them. That same year, Smollett had a role in North, an adventure comedy starring Elijah Wood.

Music and Return to the Screen

Smollett disappeared from the entertainment world for quite a while after On Our Own ended in 1995. In 2012, he returned with two major projects. Smollett released the EP Poisoned Hearts Club and starred in the independent film The Skinny. He also appeared on the popular Mindy Kaling sitcom The Mindy Project.

With his career picking up momentum, Smollett landed roles in the action movie Born to Race: Fast Track (2014) and drama Ask Me Anything (2014) as well as a guest spot on the TV show Revenge

'Empire'

The following year, Smollett made his debut in his greatest role to date, playing Jamal Lyon in the musical drama Empire, which has become a ratings giant.

Jamal is the gay middle child of African-American music titan Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) and his ex-con ex-wife Cookie (Taraji Henson). While supported by his tenacious mother, he has a difficult relationship with his father because Lucious doesn't accept Jamal's sexual orientation. But viewers have had quite a different reaction to the character, who's served as an inspiration to many.

As Smollett told Vanity Fair, "I received a letter from a kid that said Jamal gave him the courage to come out to his parents. It touched me deeply and it's an honor to help people."

Coming Out

While previously avoiding questions about his personal life, Smollett did come out as gay in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres on her daytime talk show. He told her wasn't intentionally withholding his sexuality, just guarding his own privacy. Smollett said that "there's never been a closet that I've been in" but he has a "responsibility to protect" his own "home."

As Jamal, Smollett has been able to showcase his own talents as a singer and songwriter on the show. He contributed several songs to the Empire soundtrack, which has become a huge hit. The success of Empire has also helped Smollett score his own deal with Columbia Records.

Attack, Investigation and Arrest

In January 2019, Smollett claimed he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who poured a chemical substance on him, put a rope around his neck and made homophobic comments. He was in better shape after a brief hospitalization, and appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the experience.

The investigation took a turn by mid-February, when police released two brothers connected to the incident and began looking into the possibility that the actor had orchestrated the attack. On February 20, following the convening of a grand jury to hear evidence, Smollett was charged with a class 4 felony for filing a false report.

Smollett was arrested the next morning and released after posting a $10,000 bond and surrendering his passport. That day, he drew a stern rebuke from Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who said the actor paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack and "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."

The actor's situation was seemingly getting worse when a Cook County grand jury returned a 16-count indictment against Smollett on March 7, the charges related to false statements given over two sets of interviews with police.

However, on March 26, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office announced that all charges were being dropped, citing Smollett's performance of community service and agreement to forfeit the $10,000 bond as contributing factors. The decision was blasted by the Chicago police superintendent and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called it "a whitewash of justice." 

Meanwhile, Smollett thanked his supporters. "I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One," he said. "This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith and I'm a man that has knowledge of my history, and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this."

The issue not entirely settled, Smollett was slapped with a $130,000 lawsuit by the City of Chicago in April to cover the cost of investigating a false hate crime report. The following month, a Cook County judge ordered the criminal case file against Smollett be unsealed. Responding to the actor's request to keep the information private, the judge noted that Smollett was not behaving like someone who wanted to keep things private due to his repeated public comments on the case.

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Jussie Smollett at the "Empire" Los Angeles Premiere in 2015. (Photo: DFree / Shutterstock.com)

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