There is nothing so tragic as a young life cut short and with the rash of untimely celebrity deaths as is the case of Glee’s Cory Monteith, who died at 31 and That 70’s Show’s Lisa Robin Kelly, who died at 43 years old, this adage has never been more relevant. Both were widely reported and while Monteith was a seminal character, Kelly was more of a peripheral character, playing the sister to one of the show’s main stars.
Yesterday the news broke that Lee Thompson Young passed away at the tender age of 29 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The former child star was most well known as the title character in The Famous Jett Jackson, a popular teen program that aired on The Disney Channel from 1998 to 2001. He was only 13 when the show began but he quickly made an impression on the Hollywood landscape.
In the following years, Thompson worked on other prominent series like South Beach and FlashForward but as is the story of so many Hollywood actors, these shows were cancelled before they could gain a footing. Most recently, Young had a recurring role on TNT’s Rizzoli and Isles where he played a young detective. So with this illustrious career, the question remains, why the media blackout?
Sure, the online media seized upon this story the moment it broke late afternoon on August 19 but the television coverage has been lacking to say the least. There was the briefest of mentions of Young on CNN Headline News and almost zero news coverage on the major morning news outlets including Good Morning America, which airs on a Disney-owned network.
There are several possible explanations for this oversight. Some might say that he wasn’t well known enough to be mentioned. Of course, if you were to ask the millions of children who are now adults that grew up on The Famous Jett Jackson, they would beg to differ. If you ask the millions of African American children who saw someone who looked like them and was their age commanding the screen as an action star who just wanted to be a normal kid, they would beg to differ and if you ventured over to the Huffington Post, you would see that Young’s death was their most popular celebrity story.
If you’re going to make the argument about cultural relevance, then let’s look at Monteith and Kelly’s deaths. These were two stars that died early. Monteith like Young showed no outward signs of being troubled. He was always the picture of happiness, which made his death all the more shocking. Kelly had been troubled for years with domestic violence arrests and alcoholism plaguing her life. Her death, while sad, was not unexpected. The media outlets seized upon their deaths. They openly grieved for the loss of these talents along with those that knew them best. What is so different about Young that he could not be shown the same respect?
Some will say it was because he was black. The fact is that is a matter of speculation and cannot be proven. So in the end, fans of Young are left to wonder what happened to this talented star without the television media leading the way in the investigation. Maybe Young was like his Jett Jackson character in real life, a Carolina boy who was well known as action star but just wanted to be normal boy in real life or maybe that’s what this writer would like to believe.
Young was born in Columbia, South Carolina, a town where I spent part of my childhood and lived 30 minutes away from for the rest of my childhood. By the time The Famous Jett Jackson premiered I was already graduating high school, but I KNEW of the show and was proud to know that a little black boy had done well in life. I only came to the knowledge that he lived so close to me recently. So naturally, this loss felt a bit closer to home. I never met Young but the South Carolina club of industry professionals is small one and I am happy to be apart of it and sad to know that we just lost a member.
Perhaps this television blackout is a blessing in disguise for his family. It’s hard enough to mourn the loss of a family member alone but doing it in the media spotlight can be unbearable. So for now the online world will bid a fond farewell to The Famous Jett Jackson and hope that that he has found his peace in the afterlife.
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