A cast member on the hit television show “Empire” alleged he was physically attacked by men in Chicago who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, police said Tuesday.
Police did not release the actor’s name but a statement from Fox, which airs “Empire,” identified him as Jussie Smollett, 36. Authorities said they are investigating the alleged attack as a hate crime. Smollett is black and openly gay.
According to a police statement, the actor was walking near the Chicago River downtown around 2 a.m. Tuesday when he was approached by two men who shouted at him, struck him in the face and poured an “unknown substance” on him before one of them wrapped a rope around his neck.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that when officers first came in contact with Smollett, he still had a rope around his neck. While being interviewed by detectives, Guglielmi said Smollett told them that the attackers yelled he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” slogan that some critics of the president have decried as racist and discriminatory.
The police spokesman added that the two men were wearing masks. Investigators have not found any surveillance video or witnesses from which they can put together a description of the offenders, he said.
Smollett was able to take himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was last reported in good condition.
Guglielmi also said the FBI is investigating a threatening letter targeting Smollett that was sent to the Fox studio in Chicago last week.
The hourlong drama “Empire” follows an African-American family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry. Jamal Lyon, Smollett’s character, is the gay, middle son of Empire Entertainment founder Lucious Lyon and Cookie Lyon, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively.
Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement Tuesday in support of Smollett. “The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence,” the statement read.
“Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels also voiced his support for Smollett in an Instagram video.
“You didn’t deserve, nor anybody deserves, to have a noose put around your neck,” Daniels said. “You are better than that, we are better than that, America is better than that.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, knows Smollett personally and called the attack “outrageous” and “awful.”
“He is one of the kindest, most gentle human beings I’ve ever met,” Harris said Tuesday, adding that she’s still learning more details about the incident.
Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues and he released his debut album, “Sum of My Music,” last year. A solo show he had set for the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday will go on as scheduled, the Los Angeles Times reported.
That same day, a coalition a groups has organized a rally in support of Smollett, convening at the rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards in West Hollywood.
“We will be joined by community leaders to reject hate and focus our anger into purpose,” a Facebook event page for the protest states.
“Empire” is shot in Chicago and a Fox spokeswoman said the program is currently in production.
Smollet’s colleagues and fans have taken to social media to expressed shock, sadness and love for the actor-singer.
Lee Daniels, creator of “Empire”
Danny Strong, actor/executive producer of “Empire”
…whoever did this, do not forget that you are nothing but hate filled cowards while Jussie’s talent and activism will continue to shine a bright light on to the world for decades to come.
— Danny Strong (@Dannystrong) January 29, 2019
Sending love, healing, and support to @jussiesmollett. We ALL have a responsibility to rise up against the ignorance and hate out there. If you know who did this, REPORT THEM TO THE POLICE. https://t.co/Q0PZdMeDtZ pic.twitter.com/XlkGbvUTIC
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) January 29, 2019
Sending love to Jussie and the Smollett family after this horrific attack. We support you and pray that you find peace and justice.
— John Legend (@johnlegend) January 29, 2019
DEAR GOD! Prayers and justice for Jussie Smollett.
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) January 29, 2019
Vivica A. Fox
I'm just now hearing the news about the senseless hate attack on my #EMPiRE Nephew @JussieSmollett IM SO ANGRY AND HURT ABOUT THIS! THIS MUST STOP!! SPREAD LOVE NOT HATE! PRAYERS UP TO U NEPHEW! 😢😢🙇🏾♀️🙇🏾♀️ pic.twitter.com/p4GqfNW3An
— Vivica A. Fox (@MsVivicaFox) January 29, 2019
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment
“We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our ‘Empire’ family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night. We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own.”
Words fail, but know this, @JussieSmollett is our son, our brother and the word LOVE seems insufficient. We stand with you and pray for your speedy recovery. This will not go unanswered. When you attack one of us, you will answer to ALL OF US. Know that.
— Wilson Cruz (@wcruz73) January 29, 2019
.@JussieSmollett has always been a part of the TIME'S UP family. Our hearts are with him and the Smolletts, and all those who have ever been a target of this kind of despicable hate.
— TIME'S UP (@TIMESUPNOW) January 29, 2019
WE LOVE YOU, @JussieSmollett ! ! !
— Janet Mock (@janetmock) January 29, 2019
Please send all your love to @JussieSmollett today. And please teach your children the basic tenets of love, kindness, and respect for all human beings.
— Mark Duplass (@MarkDuplass) January 29, 2019
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) January 29, 2019
As a fellow #StonewallAmbassador, my heart goes out to @JussieSmollett. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which launched the LGBTQ civil rights movement. This horrific incident underscores the struggle we still face. Thank you Jussie for your courage. https://t.co/RFnbu2dd2P
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) January 29, 2019
This. Is. Vile. https://t.co/8h6qfSmG5U
— Andy Cohen (@Andy) January 29, 2019
Sending my love and prayers to you @JussieSmollett . This is unacceptable and they will be brought to justice.
— Matt Bomer (@MattBomer) January 29, 2019
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Sending prayers your way @jussiesmollett ….This is unbelievably sad. Why are we going backwards….this is disgusting. We as people have to do better. WTF is going on the world???? Why are we falling in love with hate???? God damn it people….Choose love…I repeat…Choose love. I will forever choose love and I will continue to teach my kids how to do the same. Stand strong brother