Can you believe Jussie Smollett turns 39 years old today? We cannot.
The actor and singer famously played Jamal Lyon, the young adult son of Cookie and Lucious Lyon, on hit FOX series, Empire. On the show, Jamal was coming into his own and owning his truth as a gay Black man in America, despite his father’s hang-ups about homosexuality. At the time, his story was groundbreaking, as Empire also addressed homophobia in Hip-Hop, a topic no other show has ever confronted so thoroughly.
In the end, Jussie was cut from the series after authorities accused him of faking a hate crime he’d reported (an ongoing saga between Jussie and the Chicago justice system that we hope ends soon). Regardless, the story he assisted in telling onscreen is vital to our evolution as a society. “I was so afraid to tell the true story of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a black man that’s gay in the music business, where it’s really shunned,” Empire creator Lee Daniels said in a 2016 interview with Out. “Jussie has brought to life that character. He’s so f*cking smart — much smarter than Jamal — and I think he’s a really good role model, whereas Jamal is more of an artist, and selfish, in a beautiful way.”
“I don’t take this career for granted,” Jussie added, “and I have been given a very special platform through Empire to speak on a weekly basis about love and truth and acceptance.”
Today, for Jussie’s birthday, we want to celebrate the handsome, brave, and sweet guy we’ve always known him to be. Check out some photos below.