Smollett is best known for playing Jamal Lyon on Empire, a role that has earned him a lot of praise and made him a lot of friends. Those friends were horrified this week when Smollett was attacked outside of a restaurant in the early hours of the morning, beaten, doused with chemicals and choked with a noose. The attackers reportedly yelled racist and homophobic slurs at Smollett, leading police to investigate it as a hate crime.
Smollett's attack took over social media for a while. Many prominent celebrities spoke out, including man who had never worked with Smollett professionally. People all across the entertainment industry were singing his praises, decrying the attack as another example of unchecked bigotry running amok.
The man at the center of the incident has yet to speak out about his experience. To those who know him best, Smollett's work as an actor, musician and activist speaks for itself. Here is what you need to know about Smollett as he recovers in a Chicago hospital.
Smollett is 36 years old, born in 1982 in Santa Rosa, California. He is the son of an African-American mother and a Jewish Russian and Polish immigrant father. Smollett has five siblings, several of whom also work in the entertainment industry. His brother Jake and his sister Jurnee are both also actors.prevnext
Smollett began acting in 1992 with a role in The Might Ducks as Terry Hall. He also appeared in Rob Reiner's 1994 film North, and that same year he and his siblings got an ABC sitcom called On Our Own.
Smollett's career really took off as an adult. He appeared in the LGBT-themed rom-com The Skinny in 2012, and guest starred on The Mindy Project that same year. He picked up a few other important roles here and there before he was cast in Empire in 2015.
Since then, Smollett has also appeared in Alien: Covenant, Marshall and other big hits.prevnext
Much like acting, Smollett got into music at a young age. he released an EP titled The Poisoned Hearts Club in 1994 while working on On Our Own. However, he refers to last year's record, Sum Of My Music, as his debut album. Smollett's work has a distinctly political bent to it, addressing social and societal issues and calling listeners to action.prevnext
Smollett seemed to come out as a gay man publicly in 2015, during an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He stressed that he was never truly "in the closet," or trying to hide his orientation. However, he did hope that his performances would speak louder than personal life, and that he could normalize his sexuality rather than dramatically coming out.
"It was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet," he said. "There's never been a closet. That I've been in. I don't own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don't have a closet, but I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home."
DeGeneres prodded gently for a more definitive answer, telling Smollett that she wanted to "give him the opportunity" to say what he needed to about himself.
"When I say that I don't talk about my personal life, I'm saying that. But it is in no way to hide or deny who God made me. Ya know?" he said.
The following year, he gave another interview with Out Magazine, taking a more direct approach to labels.
"If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man," he said. "With that said, I believe that love is the only thing that matters, and I would hope that anybody would leave themselves open — not to gender, but to love."prevnext
Smollett is dedicated to social justice and other activist causes. His Twitter bio says that he is "simply here to help save the world," and he is outspoken against the Trump administration. Just last week, he was featured on MSNBC alongside his sister, Reverend Al Sharpton and Bennett College President Phyllis Dawkins.prevnext
Smollett was attacked outside a fast food restaurant in Chicago in the early hours of Tuesday, Jan. 29. Police told CBS News that they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, as the attackers had shouted racist and homophobic slurs as they beat Smollett.
They also dumped a chemical believed to be bleach on the actor, and tied a noose around his neck. Smollett said that the attackers shouted "this is MAGA country" at him as wel, referencing President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.prevnext
Smollett transported himself to the hospital, where he was treated for cuts and bruises. Empire co-creator Lee Daniels posted a screenshot of a video chat with Smollett, showing abrasions on his face, though the picture was later deleted. Smollett was released from the hospital on Tuesday.
As for the investigation itself, the FBI have officially gotten involved. Along with the police, they are reportedly canvassing nearby areas looking for any relevant security footage, though so far nothing has turned up.
The studio where Empire is filmed was given extra security, especially for cast members following the attack.prevnext
.@JussieSmollett is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I know. I’m praying for his quick recovery.
This was an attempted modern day lynching. No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate.— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) January 29, 2019
Smollett received an outpouring of support online, including everyone from cast-mates to political figures. Two 2020 presidential candidates — Senators Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand — have voiced their support for Harris, as have the Empire writers and many of his co-stars.
Other celebrities calling for justice for Smollett include John Legend, Kevin Hart and George Takei, to name a few.prev