ABOVE PHOTO: This undated publicity photo shows actor Lee Thompson Young. Los Angeles police say Young, 29, was found dead Monday morning, Aug. 19, 2013. The actor started his career as a teenager in the TV series “The Famous Jett Jackson” and was co-starring in the series “Rizzoli & Isles.”
(AP Photo/Jonas Public Relations)
By Lynn Elber
LOS ANGELES — Lee Thompson Young, who began his acting career as the teenage star of the Disney Channel’s “The Famous Jett Jackson” and was featured in the film “Friday Night Lights” and the series “Rizzoli & Isles,” was found dead Monday, police said. He was 29.
There was no official cause of death, but Young’s manager, Paul Baruch, said the actor “tragically took his own life.”
“Lee was more than just a brilliant young actor, he was a wonderful and gentle soul who will be truly missed. We ask that you please respect the privacy of his family and friends as this very difficult time,” Baruch said in a statement.
Young’s body was found at his North Hollywood home by police Monday morning after he failed to show up for work on TNT’s crime drama “Rizzoli & Isles,” police Officer Sally Madera said. The Los Angeles Fire Department was summoned and pronounced him dead at the scene, she said.
LAPD robbery-homicide detectives and the Los Angeles County coroner office were investigating because it is a high-profile death, she said. Madera had no details about the cause of death.
In the TNT series, Young played fledgling police Detective Barry Frost, who’s computer savvy but squeamish. Earlier Monday, the channel announced it was renewing the series that stars Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.
“We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. … Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and offscreen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace,” TNT, studio Warner Bros. and series producer Janet Tamaro said in a joint statement.
From an update on Wednesday, sources close to late actor told E! News he had suffered from depression for some time leading up to his apparent suicide.
The “Rizzoli & Isles” star, who was 29 at the time of his death on Aug. 19, “didn’t drink or party,” says a source, adding, “He was the opposite. Lee loved to travel and was always the first to tell everyone to take a breath and enjoy the beauty of life.” He was always “gentle and unassuming,” despite his early success, and didn’t have the typical “look-at-me” attitude.
That said, those close to Young noticed things “really changed” a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin,” meaning “death is preferable to ignominy.”
According to E! News, some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.
However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion “[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.”
“The Famous Jett Jackson” star “took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,” says a source, adding, “This religion was everything to him.” Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.
It should be noted that Yorùbá more commonly refers to the West African tribe which is made up of Christians, Muslims and a multitude of people from different faiths. They sent condolences to his mother and other family members.
According to a biography from TNT, Young was inspired to pursue acting when, at age, 10, he played Martin Luther King Jr. in a play in Young’s hometown of Columbia, S.C.
In 1998, Young began starring in “The Famous Jett Jackson,” playing a TV action hero who returns to his roots for a less high-profile life. The series ran until 2001.
Young followed it with roles in TV series, including “The Guardian,” ‘’Scrubs” and “Smallville” and in the films “Akeelah and the Bee” and “The Hills Have Eyes II.” Young joined “Rizzoli & Isles” when it debuted in 2010.
“I’m the youngest member of the cast, so I really take advantage of the wealth of knowledge that I find myself surrounded by,” Young said in a 2011 interview with the website Rolling Out.
Young, a graduate of University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, was an as an avid photographer, traveler and student of martial arts, according to his biography.
Eurweb and E! News contributed to this story