UPDATED with Fox statement & tweets: Reports that an alleged attack on Jussie Smollett more than two weeks ago in Chicago was staged as a career move are “unconfirmed,” the Chicago police said Thursday night. At the same time, Fox, the network that airs Smollett’s series Empire, rejected suggestions that the actor was being written off the series, a reason given in reports earlier in the day claiming the attack was staged.
In a statement online this afternoon, a spokesman for the Chicago PD offered an update on the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 29 assault on Smollett, as well as a stern rebuke to local media.
Media reports about the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives. Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate. pic.twitter.com/iSO5YFv452
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 15, 2019
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” said 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment today. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
“Today Jussie did answer routine follow-up questions for Chicago Police Department and continues to cooperate,” reps for the actor said Thursday. Smollett plays openly gay Jamal Lyon on the Fox hip-hop drama created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong.
Earlier in the day, ABC and CBS affiliates in Chicago went with stories that Smollett was believed to possibly be in cahoots with two men brought in for questioning about the attack today. The outlets claimed the actor may have planned the assault in an idea that it would keep him on the Chicago-filmed show – a show Fox now says he was never being written off of.
The co-creator of Empire and others on the show also shot down the notion that Smollett was exiting the series:
There is 0% truth that @JussieSmollett was going to be written off of Empire. This rumor is totally false. He is the third lead and one of the most beloved characters on the show. Writing him off the show has NEVER even been discussed.
— Danny Strong (@Dannystrong) February 15, 2019
The writers of Empire have never planned or even discussed writing @JussieSmollett off of the show.
— Empire Writers (@EmpireWriters) February 15, 2019
Guglielmi tweeted shortly after Smollett’s GMA appearance this morning that through a “meticulous investigation,” detectives “have identified the persons of interest in the area of the alleged attack of the Empire cast member. These individuals are not yet suspects but were in area of concern and are being questioned. Investigation continues.”
Shortly after that tweet, Guglielmi tweeted, “Important for media reporting: The people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported. They are not considered suspects at this time as they are currently being questioned by detectives. We remain in communication with the alleged victim.”
That “alleged victim” is of course Smollett, who has received almost universal support from his Empire co-workers, Hollywood and even Donald Trump.
After a delayed flight from NYC, the actor was just back in Chicago when around 2 AM on the morning of January 29 two men began screaming derogatory slurs at him on the street near where he lives. The duo then started striking Smollett again and again. They are also said to have poured an unknown chemical substance over him now thought to have been bleach.
Additionally, the assailants were said to have put a rope around Smollett’s neck before leaving the scene.
After reporting the incident to police and conducting an initial interview with them, Smollett drove to Northwestern Hospital to be seen by doctors. Bruised but not admitted to the facility, the Empire star returned to his local apartment that morning and was said to be in good condition, police said.
Soon afterwards, the Chicago PD said they were treating the incident as a “possible hate crime.” On January 31, one day after local law enforcement released photos of “persons of interest” in the matter, Guglielmi referred to the matter as an “assault and battery case.”
On the day of the attack, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment
said in a statement they were “deeply saddened and outraged” by the assault.
At a previously scheduled show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on February 2, Smollett directly addressed the matter on everybody’s minds. As the FBI assisted investigation continued back in Chicago, the performer told the packed club: “I had to be here tonight!”
He added to roars of support from the audience, “I couldn’t let those motherf*ckers win!”