Actor Jussie Smollett ‘Will Not Be Returning’ to ‘Empire,’ Co-creator Lee Daniels Says

By Zachary Stieber

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett will not be appearing in the show’s final season, its co-creator said on June 4.

Police said that Smollett orchestrated a hate crime hoax in January in order to get a higher salary on the show, where he was one of the main stars. He was since removed from some of the episodes and has not been signed for season 6.

Lee Daniels, the show’s co-creator, initially vowed to support Smollett after the actor claimed he was attacked by two supporters of President Donald Trump in Chicago on Jan. 29 on the street in the middle of the night amid a polar vortex.

Daniels took to Instagram to decry people questioning the veracity of Smollett’s story, which later came crashing down when two Nigerian-American brothers told police he’d paid them to fake the attack.

But Daniels now says that Smollett will definitely not be back on “Empire.”

He took to Twitter on Tuesday after Variety published an article that claimed the show’s writers were “prepping for Jussie Smollett’s return.”

“This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire,” Daniels responded.

The article was later updated to focus on Daniels’s comment. It said that “multiple production sources” expected Smollett to return for the second half of the show’s 18 final episodes.

While Daniels has dropped his support for Smollett, a number of his co-stars were pushing for the actor’s return to the show.

The cast of TV show Empire
(L-R) Actors Jussie Smollett, Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Co-Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Lee Daniels, and Executive Producers Sanaa Hamri and Ilene Chaiken of ‘Empire’ speak onstage during the FOX portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, and other stars co-signed a letter asking Fox Entertainment, Disney TV Studios, and ABC Entertainment to bring Smollett back to the show. The letter was obtained in April by Deadline.

“Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett,” they said in the letter, which was sent to Daniels, co-creator Danny Strong, and executives.

“Throughout Empire’s five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind, he is compassionate, he is honest and, above all, he is filled with integrity,” the letter continued.

Fox previously said that Smollett could return for the show but there were no plans for him to appear in the final season.

jussie smollett 5
Jussie Smollett (second from left) appears in an episode of “Empire” with (from left to right) Bryshere Gray, Taraji Henson, and Terrence Howard. (Chuck Hodes/FOX via AP)

“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season 6, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,’” Fox said in a statement on April 30.

Executives said on May 13 that the show was canceled, about six weeks after it hit its all-time low for ratings.

The cancellation also came about two weeks after the company renewed “Empire” for a sixth season.

During a conference call with reporters on May 13, Fox CEO Charlie Collier said that the show would be ending after the sixth season.

“We are turning the final season of Empire into a large television event . . . We are moving it to 9 o’clock, we’re putting it behind The Resident, and we really are trying to go out guns a-blazing. If you think about it, one of the great benefits of announcing a final season is that you actually allow the fans to lean in and have the ending they deserve,” Collier said, according to Vanity Fair.

The executive then said that there were no plans for Smollett’s return.