SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the Nov. 15 episode of Fox’s 9-1-1.
EXCLUSIVE: Original 9-1-1 cast member Rockmond Dunbar is leaving the hit Fox drama series after more than four seasons. His character, Michael Grant, was abruptly written off in Monday night’s episode, leaving fans of the first-responders drama stunned. According to sources, Dunbar’s departure stems from the new Covid protocols on the show, produced by Disney TV Studios’ 20th Television, which require all actors to be vaccinated.
I hear Dunbar requested a medical exemption and later sought a religious exemption. Both were reviewed by Disney and were rejected, sources said. According to insiders, Dunbar is not believed to be anti-vaxxer but declined to comply with the Covid vaccine mandate based on the grounds he presented, which led to his exit from 9-1-1.
In a statement to Deadline, Dunbar confirmed the circumstances surrounding his departure.
“I applied for religious and medical accommodations pursuant to the law and unfortunately was denied by my employer,” he said. “My sincerely held beliefs and private medical history are very intimate and personal aspects of my life that I do not publicly discuss and have no desire to start now. I’ve been an actor in this business for 30 years, but my greatest roles are as a husband and father to our 4 small children. As a man that walks in faith, I look forward to what the future holds.”
Dunbar went on to say, “I have enjoyed the last 5 seasons with this wonderful cast and crew and will cherish the time I’ve been blessed to spend with this series and wish everyone involved nothing but the best.“
In response to Deadline’s inquiry, a spokesman for 20th Television said: “We take the health and safety of all of our employees very seriously, and have implemented a mandatory vaccination confirmation process for those working in Zone A on our productions. In order to ensure a safer workplace for all, Zone A personnel who do not confirm their vaccination status and do not meet the criteria for exemption will not be eligible to work.”
This is something we likely will see more in the coming days and weeks as TV studios start to enforce the new Covid vaccination mandates, requiring shots for everyone in Zone A of their series, which include the casts and crew members who interact with them.
Veteran Dunbar is well liked and has a longstanding close relationship with 9-1-1 co-creator/executive producer/showrunner Tim Minear. I hear the producers deliberately left Michael’s storyline open-ended in the event the vaccination issue is resolved and he could return to the show, which appears unlikely at the moment.
A member of the 9-1-1 series regular cast since the pilot, Dunbar plays Michael Grant. Initially married to Athena (Angela Bassett), he came out to her as gay, and the two divorced by the end of first season while continuing to co-parent their two children together.
The breakup led to some reduction of Dunbar’s screen time in Seasons 2-4, but he stayed on as a series regular and, along with the rest of the drama’s core cast, received a salary bump ahead of the current fifth season.
Michael had a strong storyline at the start of Season 5 as he and Athena dealt with the kidnapping and rescue of their son Harry as well as the aftermath of the ordeal and its emotional impact on the young boy.
In Monday night’s episode, Michael’s boyfriend, David (La Monde Byrd), a neurosurgeon, revealed his plans to go to Haiti for a few months to help with hurricane relief efforts, prompting Michael to propose and then announce that he would be joining David on the trip. As Michael told Athena and their children about his decision, the character received a sendoff with an emotional montage.
Since the episode aired, Dunbar has been retweeting shocked fan reactions to the sudden departure:
— 9-1-1 on FOX (@911onFOX) November 16, 2021
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