End of Smollett's career?

Jussie Smollett has been enmeshed in weekly drama on the set of "Empire," the Fox TV series that gave the actor a breakout role and the fame to advance his social activism.

Or at least he has been. Friday's news that Smollett will not appear on the final two episodes of this season of "Empire" leaves his future on the series very much in doubt.

It was a scene that played out on a dark Chicago street in January that has left Smollett facing felony charges and raised the possibility that his role as Jamal Lyon could mark the pinnacle of the 36-year-old's career.

Smollett, who is black and gay, told police he was the victim of a hate crime committed by men who threw liquid in his face, yelled racist, anti-gay slurs and looped a noose around his neck. After a three-week investigation, Smollett was charged Wednesday with staging the attack with help from two brothers he knew and allegedly paid for their services.

Even in an industry in which bad or erratic behaviour is expected, insiders and observers are stunned by what authorities allege was fakery intended in part to get Smollett publicity and a raise.

"This is incredible. No one does this," said Garth Ancier, a veteran network executive and a co-founder of the Fox network. If more money was his goal, that's what agents and negotiations are for, he said, calling the alleged hoax "beyond the pale."

"It's too bad that such a talented guy threw all that away," Ancier said, adding he didn't see how he could be kept on "Empire."

There are two episodes of the show left to make of the 18 airing this season, the fifth year for the series starring Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard as hip-hop moguls Cookie and Lucious Lyon.

In a statement, "Empire" producers said Friday that while they care about Smollett deeply, "We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of 'Jamal' from the final two episodes of the season."

Before Friday's statement, Fox had publicly stood behind Smollett even as skepticism about the attack arose. Replacing Smollett so late in the series might be problematic. Writing his character, one of three Lyon sons, out of future seasons would be less so.

Smollett's legal team released a statement late Thursday calling Chicago police's version of events "an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system.

"Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing," the statement said.

After Smollett was charged, TNT's celebrity battle-rap series "Drop the Mic" pulled an upcoming episode with him "in the interest of not being exploitative of an incredibly sensitive situation," the network said in a statement.

Experts in the field of crisis management were pessimistic. The online mockery Smollett is taking is unlikely to stop, and it could hinder any attempt to re-emerge, said Eric Dezenhall, CEO of the public relations firm Dezenhall Resources.

"The thing it's really hard to come back from is ridicule," Dezenhall said. "It can be easier to come back from something just bad. In our culture the whiff of something dangerous has a certain street cred. But here we're talking about a combination of malevolence and ridiculousness."

Eden Gillott, president of Gillott Communications, offered a similar take.

"This could be a career-killer. We've seen this many times. Society has become more intolerant and unforgiving," said Gillott, citing instances ranging from Kevin Spacey's firing from "House of Cards" for alleged sexual misconduct to Megyn Kelly's "Today" exit after she defended blackface costumes.

What Smollett is alleged to have done isn't analogous to either one — or to just about anything that's happened with a celebrity or prominent person in recent memory or in news files.



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