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Justin "Jussie" Smollett (/ˈdʒʌsi smʌˈlɛt/ JUSS-ee , born June 21, 1982), is an American actor and singer. He began his career as a child actor in 1987 acting in films including The Mighty Ducks (1992) and Rob Reiner's North (1994). In 2015, Smollett attracted attention and received a highly positive critical reception for his portrayal of musician Jamal Lyon in the Fox drama series Empire (2015). Smollett has also appeared in Ridley Scott's science fiction film Alien: Covenant (2017) as Ricks and in Marshall (2017) as Langston Hughes.
(1982-06-21) June 21, 1982 (age 36)
Santa Rosa, California, U.S.
|Known for||Jamal Lyon (Empire)|
|Relatives||Jake Smollett (brother)|
Jurnee Smollett-Bell (sister)
Justin "Jussie" Smollett (/
Smollett was indicted on February 20, 2019, for disorderly conduct after allegedly staging a hate crime assault by two Nigerian brothers on himself and filing a false police report. Police alleged that he staged the attack because he was dissatisfied with his pay on Empire. Smollett tied the incident to racism, homophobia, and President Donald Trump.
Justin "Jussie" Smollett was born in Santa Rosa, California, and is the third of six children of Janet (née Harris) and Joel Smollett (1956-2014). He has three brothers and two sisters: Jake, Jocqui, Jojo, Jurnee, and Jazz, several of whom are also actors. Smollett is biracial. His mother is African-American and his father was Jewish (his family emigrated from Russia and Poland). He has said that his father would have "killed you if you called him white." His father was absent from his life for significant portion of his childhood. He graduated from Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, New Jersey. Smollett told his parents he was gay when he was 19.
Smollett began his acting career as a child, appearing in the films The Mighty Ducks (1992) and Rob Reiner's North (1994). On television, he starred alongside his five real-life siblings in the short-lived ABC sitcom On Our Own from 1994–95. In 2012, Smollett returned to acting with the leading role in Patrik-Ian Polk's LGBT-themed comedy-drama The Skinny. Also that year, he released an EP titled The Poisoned Hearts Club. He later guest-starred on The Mindy Project (2012) and Revenge (2014).
In 2014, Smollett was cast as Jamal Lyon—a gay musician who struggles to gain the approval of his father—opposite Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard in the Fox drama series Empire. His role was hailed as "groundbreaking" for its positive depiction of a black gay man on television. Smollett reprised his role in subsequent seasons, and directed an episode of the fourth season in 2017.
In February 2015, Smollett confirmed that he had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and would be releasing an album in the future. Smollett co-wrote the songs "I Wanna Love You" and "You're So Beautiful" on the Original Soundtrack from Season 1 of Empire album, which was released in March 2015.
In June 2015, it was announced that Smollett would guest-star alongside his younger sister, Jurnee, on Underground, which aired in 2016. In March 2018, Smollett released his debut album, Sum of My Music. Sum of My Music is an R&B album that features elements of electronic music and hip hop. Smollett self-released it through his own label, Music of Sound.
In a 2016 interview with Out, he clarified his sexual orientation by stating "If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man." However, he stated his belief that openness to love is more important than gender, revealing that "If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I'm going to love that woman." When Smollett's gay character from Empire engaged in a tryst with a female character, Smollett defended the plot development by stating that he and Empire's creator Lee Daniels were trying to create a conversation about sexual fluidity in the gay community. Daniels has stated that while he and Smollett are gay, they both occasionally want to have sex with women. Daniels stated that "We're showing life on Empire", in that both he and Smollett were incorporating their own sexual fluidity as gay men into the show.
According to the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, Smollett pleaded no contest to providing false information to law enforcement in a 2007 misdemeanor case resulting from a DUI stop in which Smollett gave police a false name. Smollett also pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit and driving without a valid driver's license, and was sentenced to a fine and two years of probation.
On January 22, 2019, Smollett received a threatening letter which depicted a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it. It read "Smollett, Jussie you will die" and "MAGA" and contained a white powder determined to be Tylenol. On January 29, 2019, Smollett said that he was attacked in the early morning of that day in the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, in what was initially investigated as a hate crime. Unnamed police sources later alleged Smollett orchestrated the attack.
Smollett told police that he was attacked outside his apartment building by two men in ski masks who called him racial and homophobic slurs, and said "This is MAGA country," referencing President Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" and used their hands, feet, and teeth as weapons in the assault. According to a statement released by the Chicago Police Department, the two suspects then "poured an unknown liquid" on Smollett and put a noose around his neck. Smollett said that he fought them off. Smollett was treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital; not seriously injured, he was released "in good condition" later that morning. The police were called after 2:30 AM; when they arrived around 2:40 AM, Smollett had a white rope around his neck. Smollett said that the attack may have been motivated by his criticism of the Trump administration and that he believed that the alleged assault was linked to the threatening letter that was sent to him earlier that month.
On January 30, 2019, public figures expressed support for Smollett on social media. Entertainment industry figures, including Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis, tweeted their outrage over the attack and support for Smollett. Democratic senators and presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker both described the attack as a attempted modern-day lynching. Booker urged Congress to pass a federal Anti-Lynching bill co-sponsored by him and Harris. In an interview with April Ryan of AURN, President Trump was asked about Smollett being attacked and said, "I think that's horrible. It doesn't get worse." Smollett faced skepticism regarding his claim of being attacked; he responded by saying that he believed that, if he had said his attackers were Mexicans, Muslims, or black people, "the doubters would have supported me much more ... And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now."
On February 13, Chicago police raided the home of two "persons of interest" in the case. The men are brothers, of Nigerian descent, who have acted as extras on Empire. Police recovered bleach and other items from the home. The brothers were held in police custody on suspicion of battery but were not charged. According to the brothers' attorney, they know Smollett from working on the show, and have also spent time with him at a gym. The two men were released February 15 without being charged with a crime, with Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi stating their release was "due to new evidence" from the interrogations.
The Chicago Police Department later told ABC News: "Police are investigating whether the two individuals committed the attack—or whether the attack happened at all." On February 16, two unnamed Chicago police sources informed CNN that Chicago police had discovered evidence indicating that Smollett had paid the two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack. Financial records indicate that the brothers purchased the rope found around Smollett's neck at a hardware store in Ravenswood over the weekend of January 25. Chicago Police have reached out to Smollett's attorney regarding additional questioning.
On February 20, 2019, Smollett was charged with a class 4 felony for filing a false police report. On February 19, 2019, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced that she had recused herself from the investigation, due to her "familiarity with potential witnesses in the case", a move that prompted criticism from her predecessor, Anita Alvarez. Smollett’s felony count charge in Illinois carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. Smollett has hired attorney Mark Geragos in addition to Chicago-based attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson to work on his legal defense.
The FBI is investigating whether Smollett was involved in the threatening letter that was sent to him the week before the incident.
Smollett has hired crisis manager Chris Bastardi to represent him.
On February 21, 2019, Smollett surrendered himself at the Chicago Police Department's Central Booking station. Shortly thereafter, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi stated that Smollett "is under arrest and in the custody of detectives". Guglielmi also said that Smollett was named as suspect in a criminal investigation for filing a fake police report, under a class 4 felony. Smollett faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
Later that day, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson held a press conference on the hoax, gave details of the investigation, and explained how the department concluded that the alleged assault was staged. Chicago PD believe that Smollett staged the hoax attack as a publicity stunt meant to further his career, as he was not satisfied with his salary. The brothers who say they helped stage the attack said that Smollett had the idea to fake the crime after the threatening letter he received did not receive as much attention as he wanted it to. Police alleged that the actor intended to further his career by tying the incident to racism in the United States and President Trump, and that Smollett sent himself the threatening letter.
Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. set Smollett's bail at $100,000; a friend of the actor paid a $10,000 bond, and Smollett was released from custody. Smollett was also required to surrender his passport.
Smollett's character was subsequently removed from the final two episodes of Empire's fifth season. Those episodes had not yet been aired. Smollett claims he has an untreated drug problem - his use of ecstasy. He also said he does not have issues with alcohol or his mental health.
Entertainment industry figures who worked with Smollett speculated about what may have motivated the actor to stage the hate crime. Some of the cast members of Empire believe that Smollett might have gotten the idea to stage a hate crime after the show's creator, Lee Daniels, discussed a homophobic assault against his cousin with the show's cast. Smollett's co-stars theorized that the actor might have wanted to gain Daniels' favor and become an "LGBT hero" by staging the attack. Director Lucian Read drew a connection between the hoax and a May 2018 episode of the Epix series America Divided about lynching which he directed; Smollett narrated and appeared in the episode. Epix also released a statement saying "with respect to the sensitivities around recent events...Epix is no longer making available the episode of America Divided featuring Jussie Smollett."
|1992||The Mighty Ducks||Terry Hall||Nominated – Young Artist Award for Outstanding Young Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture|
|2009||Pitch This||Mike||Short film|
|2014||Born to Race: Fast Track||Tariq||Direct-to-video|
|Ask Me Anything||Nico Dempster|
|2016||The Tale of Four||John||Short film|
|2017||Alien: Covenant - Prologue: Last Supper||Ricks||Short film|
|1991||A Little Piece of Heaven||Salem Bordeaux||Television film|
|1993||Alex Haley's Queen||Simon||Miniseries|
|1993||Coach||Billy||Episode: "Piece o' Cake"|
|1993–94||Cro||Mike||Voice, 20 episodes|
|1994–95||On Our Own||Jesse Jerrico||Series regular, 20 episodes|
|2012||The Mindy Project||Barry Stassen||Episode: "Josh and Mindy's Christmas Party"|
|Empire||Jamal Lyon||Series regular|
Nominated – BET Award for Best Actor
Nominated – Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Actor: Drama
Nominated – Teen Choice Award for Choice TV: Breakout Star
Directed season 4, episode 16
|2016||Live! with Kelly||Himself||Guest host, 6 episodes|
|2017||Star||Jamal Lyon||Episode: "The Winner Takes it All"|
|2018||America Divided||Himself||Episode: "Whose History?"|
|1993||Young Artist Award||Outstanding Young Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture||The Mighty Ducks||Nominated|
|2015||BET Awards||Best Actor||Empire||Nominated|
|Teen Choice Awards||Choice TV Actor Drama||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Breakout Star||Nominated|
|Choice TV: Chemistry||Nominated|
|Choice Music: Song from a Movie or TV Show||"You're So Beautiful"||Nominated|
|2016||NAACP Image Awards||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series||Empire||Nominated|
|Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration||"You're So Beautiful"||Won|
|Outstanding New Artist||Jussie Smollett||Won|
|2017||Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series||Won|
|Teen Choice Awards||Choice TV Actor Drama||Empire||Nominated|
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions|
|Sum of My Music||22|
|"—" denotes items which were not released in that country or failed to chart.|
|Title||Year||Peak chart positions||Sales||Album|
|"Good Enough"||2015||—||33||13||—||60||25||55||54||2||40||Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 1|
|"Keep Your Money"||99||32||13||—||181||91||—||—||—||—|
|"I Wanna Love You"||—||—</ref>||21||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Money For Nothing"
|"You're so Beautiful"
|"Nothing To Lose"||—||—||15||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
(featuring Alicia Keys)
|—||36||10||—||152||—||—||—||—||—||Empire: Original Soundtrack Season 2 Volume 1|
|"Ain't About the Money"
|"No Doubt About it"
|"Chasing the Sky"
(featuring Terrence Howard & Yazz)
|2016||—||—||24||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||Empire: Original Soundtrack Season 2 Volume 2|
|"Need Freedom"||—||—||—||30||—||—||—||—||—||—||Empire: Original Soundtrack Season 3|
|"Freedom"||2018||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||Sum of My Music|
|"Catch Your Eye"
(featuring Swizz Beatz)
|"Ha Ha (I Love You)"||—||—||—||19||—||—||—||—||—||—|
Law enforcement has continued to say publicly that thus far there is no reason to doubt Smollett’s story.
I was born in northern California. ...[An unspecified source] says Brazil, makes me look really, really exotic and, like, cultured, but actually I was born in Santa Rosa, California.Note: TV Guide erroneously gives Santa Rosa, Brazil.
he was treated and discharged early Tuesday morning
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the initial police report did not reference those comments, but the actor recalled the information in a follow-up interview with detectives. Guglielmi said Smollett still had a thin, white rope around his neck when officers first made contact with him around 2:40 a.m., roughly 40 minutes after the alleged assault.
[Smollett] is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury.
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