Actor Dustin Diamond, best known for playing Screech on high school sitcom Saved by the Bell, has died at the age of 44.
Diamond had been diagnosed last month with stage 4 small cell carcinoma, or lung cancer, and been in treatment ever since. His representative Roger Paul confirmed the news of his death.
“Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful,” Paul said in a statement.
In 1988, at the age of 11, Diamond was cast as Screech in Disney Channel show Good Morning Miss Bliss, which after one season was retooled as Saved by the Bell on NBC, which became a long-running hit franchise. He continued to play the character until he was 23 in 2000.
“The hardest thing about being a child star is giving up your childhood. You don’t get a childhood, really,” he said in a 2013 interview.
The year after the final iteration of Saved by the Bell aired, Diamond declared bankruptcy. After the show ended, Diamond featured in a number of reality shows including Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Boxing 2. He also directed and starred in his own sex tape called Screeched – Saved by the Smell. He later claimed he used a stunt double.
Diamond had been sued several times for delinquent taxes and missing mortgage payments, and was sentenced to four months in jail after a bar altercation in 2014. “It’s pretty daunting, it’s pretty scary going into that environment,” he later said in an interview. “I found that as long as you follow the rules and stay with the system, it works. You can get in and out unscathed.”
The actor had also started a band known as Salty The Pocketknife and played himself in a number of low-budget films. His ghostwritten 2009 book Behind the Bell also detailed the inside story of the show, causing controversy among his castmates on publication. He later apologised for any damage caused.
“Dustin was a humorous and high-spirited individual whose greatest passion was to make others laugh,” Paul’s statement read. “He was able to sense and feel other peoples’ emotions to such a length that he was able to feel them too – a strength and a flaw, all in one.”
His Saved by the Bell co-star Mark-Paul Gosselaar paid tribute to the actor in a statement. “I’m deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dustin Diamond, a true comedic genius,” he told ET Canada. “My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Looking back at our time working together, I will miss those raw, brilliant sparks that only he was able to produce. A pie in your face, my comrade.”
Mario Lopez, who played AC Slater, mourned the actor in an Instagram post. “Dustin, you will be missed my man,” he wrote. “The fragility of this life is something never to be taken for granted. Prayers for your family will continue on…”