Better Times: Remembering Jonathan Brandis

Nikki Tranter

It's unclear how comfortable Brandis was with the 'former teen idol' label, and to what degree that label affected his choice to take his own life.

I do have a pretty good amount of self-confidence.
-- Jonathan Brandis, Star! Magazine, September 1993

Never be afraid to look at things from a different perspective.
-- Jonathan Brandis, The Big Bopper, August 1992

Following the freak storm that hit Los Angeles on 13 November, dedicated fans of Jonathan Brandis speculated as to how the star handled the subsequent power outtage and five inches of rain. "He probably just dealt with it like the rest of us, lighting candles and reading 'til the power comes back," said "Elise," a long-time member of TO2B, the MSN Group set up in 2001 for fans to discuss the actor and his career. When Elise posted her comments on the 17th, the actor had been dead for five days. Jonathan Brandis died at Cedars Sinai Medical Centre on 12 November. He was discovered by a friend the night before, having apparently attempted suicide by hanging.

So how is it that the most ardent Brandis-watchers knew nothing of his passing until a week following the event? Having to wonder if the actor was dead, if the sporadic postings on various related message boards were part of a hoax until news wires picked the story up on 21 November? While an oldie, the "teen star who couldn't handle the pressure" story is certainly still deemed a goodie by the press, so one wonders if it's a question of Brandis' level of fame, or of just how well the actor's family managed to keep his passing close to home. Either way, the wait for confirmation was a strange and harrowing one for Brandis' fans, myself included.

Born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1976, Jonathan Brandis began his career in front of the camera at the age of 2, as a model for Buster Brown clothing. He appeared in over 80 commercials as a kid and soon began winning spots on TV shows, including The Wonder Years, Who's the Boss?, Blossom, and Full House. It was his lead role in The Neverending Story 2 in 1990, and subsequent roles in Stephen King's IT (1990), Ladybugs (1992) and Sidekicks (1992), though, that saw him become a teen favorite. At the height of his popularity, as a star of the NBC adventure series, SeaQuest DSV, Brandis received 4000 letters a week from supporters. He seemed to wear the teen idol tag well, and always emphasised the importance of a clear head and the support of his parents, Greg and Mary, in keeping himself grounded.

Following the demise of SeaQuest in 1995, Brandis lost his "teen idol" status and disappeared from the teen rags, but was rarely without work appearing in TV movies and features, including Good King Wenceslas (1996), Born Free: A New Adventure (1996), Ride with the Devil (1999), Outside Providence (2000), A Fate Totally Worse than Death (2000), Hart's War (2002), The Year That Trembled (2002) and the yet-to-be released Puerto Vallarta Squeeze with Scott Glenn and Harvey Keitel.

Brandis made no secret of his desire to move into writing and directing (he wrote the popular "Siamese Dream" episode of SeaQuest and was slated to direct other self-penned episodes prior to the show's axing), and as the '90s came to a close, seemed content to develop his skills by learning from people like Ang Lee and the Farrelly Brothers, enjoying the kind of post-megafame career that has eluded so many of yesterday's teen stars.

It's unclear how comfortable Brandis was with the "former teen idol" label, and to what degree that label affected his choice to take his own life (his death was ruled a ruled a suicide early last week). Whatever the case, Jonathan Brandis will always be remembered for his intelligence and intensity as an actor (especially his turn in the TV movie Her Last Chance in 1996), and his place in the lives of girls lucky enough to have been 14 in 1993, when movies were about cute guys, girl-power babes kept their clothes on, and if you wanted to know such important information as the favorite colors of your favorite stars, you had to buy Teen Beat and Bop. It was a beautiful time.

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