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Jonathan Brandis

Attribution:  Airwolfberlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Jonathan Brandis
April 13, 1976—November 12, 2003

Content warning: this article contains potentially disturbing content, including references to death and the ultimate self-harm. Please use your best judgment as to whether you wish to read this content. Language is PG-13.

Jonathan Gregory Brandis was born on April 13, 1976, in Danbury, Connecticut, the only child of Mary and Gregory Brandis. Apparently he was super cute from the get-go, because he started catalog modeling at the tender age of two. However, his first modeling job was for shoes, and one doesn’t necessarily need to be super cute for that, just have cute feet. By the age of four he was appearing in television commercials. The first “legit” acting job he had was playing Kevin Buchanan (#2) on the daytime drama One Life to Life, a role he held for a hot minute in 1982.

When Brandis was seven or eight, he and his family moved to Los Angeles, California (you knew that was coming). One of his earliest Tinsel Town roles was in the pilot episode of the school-themed television series Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which was the precursor to the hit ‘tween/teen situation comedy Saved by the Bell. Although the show became a hit, Brandis wasn’t able to enjoy its success—the entire cast of the pilot episode, sans series star Hayley Mills, was replaced by a new cast—many of whom went on to achieve teenybopper superstardom because of the show.

Over the next few years Brandis landed numerous guest starring roles in a variety of popular television series, such as Blossom; Full House; Murder, She Wrote; The Wonder Years; and Who’s the Boss? He also starred in the 1990 t.v. mini-series It (affiliate link) and the theatrical release The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. His performances in both of these productions earned him praise from critics and moviegoers alike.

In 1992 he appeared in several successful projects. Most notably, he played the lead in two sports-themed feature films: the karate-themed Sidekicks, with Beau Bridges and Chuck Norris, and Ladybugs (affiliate link), starring Rodney Dangerfield. In the latter he played a soccer-playing high school boy masquerading as a soccer-playing high school girl. For some reason, his Ladybugs performance really captured the attention of the viewing public’s younger members. (I’m not judging, but personally I thought he didn’t make a very convincing female).

Throughout his teen years and what there was of his adulthood, Brandis dated his fair share of pretty, young actresses. In the early 1990’s he dated Ladybugs costar Vinessa (not a typo) Shaw. Later in that decade he began a serious long-term relationship with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali. They broke up in 1998, and a year or two later he moved on to date actress Monica Keena (While You Were Sleeping/ Entourage) for a short time. There is no scuttlebutt about him having had any serious relationships after 2000. It has also been reported that he took Brittany Murphy to her prom in 1995, but since this happened around the same time as his romance with Ali—and there is no other mention of a Brandis/Murphy relationship—it was likely a casual date. (If I were a more cynical person, I’d say it was probably done for publicity.)

In 1993 he got a tiny bit of payback for the Miss Bliss firing by appearing in that year’s Saved by the Bell: The College Years Thanksgiving special, portraying “himself.” 1993 was also the year he scored his last “big” job—and only long-term recurring role—playing cheeky (i.e., conceited) Navy Ensign Lucas Wolenczak in the watery action television series Seaquest DSV (retitled Seaquest 2032 mid-run). One Seaquest episode featured Yaphet Kotto.

Although he had already accumulated a substantial fan base pre-Seaquest (primarily comprised of teen girls), during the run of the show his popularity soared. He became a regular on the covers of teen fan-oriented magazines and at times needed bodyguards to escort him into and out of work in order to keep him from being accosted by adoring admirers/stalkers.

After S-DSV/2032 ended, Brandis’s career started to slide. The big job offers dried up, and much of his teen fan base moved on to the next flavor of the month. The only well-known motion picture deal he was signed on for was a small role in 2002’s Hart’s War (affiliate link), but during the film’s final editing his role shrank from “bit part” to “extra.” Unsurprisingly, Brandis was displeased. Friends said he had hoped potential employers would watch the film and be impressed by his acting—but none were, because his part no longer involved acting, just standing.

Brandis tried his hand at directing, producing, and writing, but it was mostly amateur stuff that got him little or no recognition. He became increasingly despondent, turning to alcohol to numb his depression. Allegedly he told his friends he wished to kill himself, but there is no evidence (that was made public, anyway) that he ever sought help for his depression.

On November 11, 2003, Brandis’s friends found him hanging in the hallway of his Los Angeles apartment. He was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but it was too late to save him. He died the next day. Reportedly, he had no drugs in his system, and just a negligible amount of alcohol.

Brandis left no suicide note, but his reasons seem pretty obvious.

He was cremated, and his ashes were given to a family member.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or addiction, please call your regional or national substance abuse and mental health helpline. In the United States, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s 24/7 National Helpline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357).


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