Jussie Smollett Biography

Television Actor, 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. That same year, Smollett landed a recording contract with Columbia Records.

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


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.

Smollett endured a frightening episode in early 2019, when he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who poured a chemical substance on him and put a rope around his neck. The actor was in better shape after a brief hospitalization, and appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the incident.

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

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