In a disturbing and brutal attack, “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was hospitalized in what police are investigating as a “possible hate crime,” ABC News has confirmed.
The Chicago Police Department tells ABC News that the 36-year-old “Empire” actor was in Chicago early Tuesday walking outside when someone shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him.
Two men then attacked the actor, poured “an unknown chemical substance” on him, and wrapped a rope around his neck.
Smollett was treated at the nearby Northwestern Memorial Hospital, police said. Chicago PD added that they “are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.”
“Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline. The victim is fully cooperating with investigators and we ask anyone with information about this incident to contact Area Central Detectives at 312-747-8382 or report it anonymously to www.cpdtip.com,” police said in their statement.
“Empire” creator Lee Daniels spoke out passionately in an Instagram video later Tuesday about the young star, calling Smollett “my son.”
“You didn’t deserve, nor does anybody deserve to have a noose put around your neck,” he says in a video. “To be called ‘Die f—-, n—–, or whatever they said to you. You are better than that. We are, America is better than that.”
Daniels fought from noticeably breaking down as he asked everyone watching to love each other, no matter their sexual orientation.
“Hold your head up Jussie, I’m with you, I’ll be there in a minute,” he added.
“Empire” executive producer Danny Strong said in a series of tweets, “I’m deeply horrified and saddened by the racist and homophobic attacks against @JussieSmollett. He is a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart. The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live. 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.”
I’m deeply horrified and saddened by the racist and homophobic attacks against @JussieSmollett. He is a kind and profoundly talented soul whom I respect with all my heart. The terror of racism and homophobia has no place in our society, it is the most indecent way to live…
Co-star Vivica A. Fox also spoke out.
Smollett’s “Empire” character, Jamal, is the son of a hip-hop mogul who initially has trouble accepting that Jamal is gay.
Fox, the network that airs “Empire,” added a statement of its own about the attack, writing, “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.”
After hitting it big in “Empire,” Smollett said he likes to stay away from talking about his personal life, but he did speak about how he identifies to Ellen DeGeneres in 2015.
“There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said. “There is, without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear.”
In previous interviews, Smollett wouldn’t talk about his sexuality but did say fans and others shouldn’t try to fit him into any box.
After those statements in 2015, fellow cast member Taraji P. Henson wrote on Twitter, “So proud of you!!!!!”
Beyond being an actor, Smollett is an outspoken activist and a symbol of hope to many fans.
He was recently inducted into the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project earlier this month and publicly announced he was supporting Time’s Up’s 4 percent challenge to get more female talent calling the creative shots on important Hollywood projects.