Justin “Jussie” Smollett was born and raised in Santa Rosa, California. Growing up, he was the third of six children to Janet Harris and Joel Smollett. His three brothers and two sisters all sport similar names: Jack, Jocqui, Jojo, Jurnee, and Jazz.
Though he grew up in California, Smollett is open about the fact that his biography says he is from “Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.”
He says the error is funny and makes him feel exotic, but he has always been honest about his upbringing.
He began his acting career as a child, featuring in the films The Mighty Ducks (1992) and North (1994). He and all his siblings even starred in the short-lived ABC sitcomOn Our Own from 1994 to 1995.
In 2012, Smollett released his EP titled The Poisoned Hearts Club. In 2018, the budding singer followed up with Sum of My Music, his debut album. The album was self-released through his own label called Music of Sound.
A Star is Born
Smollett has won several awards throughout his acting career. In 1993, he was awarded the Young Artist Award in the category of Outstanding Young Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture.
2015 saw him win the BET Awards and Teen Choice Awards. In 2016 he won the NAACP Image Awards in several categories, and in 2017, a second Teen Choice Awards.
Love is Love
Smollett came out to his parents as gay when he was 19, and publicly in March 2015 during a televised interview with Ellen DeGeneres.
He has since stated his belief that openness to love is more important than gender, and that “If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I’m going to love that woman.”
His character on Empire, Jamal Lyon, is also portrayed as gay, but later engages in a tryst with a female character.
Smollett, along with the show’s creator Lee Daniels, said that the interaction was an expression of their own sexual fluidity. The development was meant to start a conversation among the gay community.
License and Registration, Please
Though now well known for the 2019 Chicago incident, Smollett had run-ins with the law before.
In 2007, he pleaded no contest to giving a false name to police when pulled over for drunk driving. He was later sentenced to a fine and two years of probation.
On January 22, 2019, Smollett received an anonymous letter threatening him. A few days later, he was allegedly attacked by two assailants who wearing MAGA hats.
Smollett reported that they attacked him wearing ski masks, called him racial slurs, and poured an unknown liquid on him before putting a noose around his neck.
Friends in High Places
In the following days, fellow celebrities expressed their support and outrage over the incident. Hollywood powerhouse players including Shonda Rhimes and Viola Davis took to Twitter to share their views.
Even democratic senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker expressed that the attack was an attempt at a modern-day lynching.
Smollett was later detained under suspicion of filing a false police report. He allegedly paid persons of interest to stage the assault as a means to further his career in a publicity stunt because he was unhappy with his salary.
A Friend in Need
On February 20th, Jussie Smollett was charged with a class 4 felony of filing a false police report, and the next day surrendered himself to Chicago Police Department.
His bail was set at $100,000. A friend of the actor paid a $10,000 bond and on February 21st, Smollett was released from custody.
Friends or Foes?
The two assailants were found to be Nigerian brothers who were extras on the same show Smollett found fame on, the Fox drama seriesEmpire. They were even found to have spent time with Smollett at the gym.
The brothers later admitted to police that Smollett had indeed paid the brothers to stage the assault, to the tune of $3,500. However, further investigation put the payoff money into question.
What Happened to Jamal Lyon?
Smollett’s character on Empire, Jamal Lyon, was subsequently removed from the last two episodes of the show’s fifth season. Those episodes had not yet been aired.
The Drug Problem
Smollet is candid about his drug use including Ecstasy.
Chicago Didn't Earn This
The police department of Chicago took the event very seriously. Smollet currently resides in the city and officials were on high alert when the alleged incident took place.
However, when news broke he was the one who allegedly masterminded the entire event, the police superintendent Eddie T. Johnson was furious.
He stated that use of the symbolism of the noose and false claims was to “slap everyone in the city in the face” and that the accusations were “a scar” that “Chicago…didn’t earn.”
On March 26th, 2019, all charges filed against Smollett were dropped and his criminal record was expunged.
An Unfair Call
Police sources have said that the department spent up to six figures in overtime investigating the Smollett case, and are furious that charges have been dropped.
The President's Thoughts
President Donald Trump was angered that his supporters were not portrayed as victims in the incident, and asked the Empire star, “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous crimes?”
Standing By His Word
Smollett has stood firm and unyielding in his conviction. The actor said, “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of doing what I was accused of.”
Jessie Smollet added, “I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
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