Fox has remained in support of Empire star Jussie Smollett in the midst of the bizarre controversy in which the actor is embroiled, calling him a “consummate professional” even as rumors swirled that the show’s writers were cutting him from season 5's final two episodes. Now, after the Chicago Police Department’s declaration that the actor staged a racist, homophobic attack against himself because he was, per police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, “dissatisfied with his salary,” Variety reports that the network has confirmed that Smollett will not appear in the rest of season 5.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us” said series executives Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer in a statement released Friday. “Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. 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.”
Smollett hasn’t been fired, and, should the show get picked up for a sixth season, the possibility remains that he could return. That is, of course, if he doesn’t find himself behind bars. He’s been charged with filing a false police report and disorderly conduct—charges that could carry up to three years of jail time—and turned himself into police on Thursday. After being released on bail, he reportedly returned to the set of Empire. Smollett’s loss would be a big one for the show. As Jamal Lyon, he’s been one of the show’s emotional cornerstones, as well as one of its most charismatic musical performers.
The actor’s lawyers, meanwhile, say that Smollett “fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”