WEST HOLLYWOOD (AP) — Jussie Smollett was blunt, emotional and defiantly determined Saturday night at a Southern California concert some urged him not to play, telling the crowd before singing a note that he had to go on with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
“The most important thing I can say is ‘thank you so much, and I’m OK,” said the “Empire” actor and R&B singer from the stage at the Troubadour in West Hollywood in his first public appearance since he reported to police in Chicago on Tuesday that two masked men had assaulted him and put a rope around his neck while using homophobic and racial slurs.
“I’m not fully healed yet,” said Smollett, who is Jewish, black and openly gay, “but I’m going to be, and I’m gonna stand strong with y’all.”
The concert had been planned long before the incident, and his family members and others had urged him to postpone it.
But Smollett said he couldn’t do that.
“I had to be here tonight, y’all. I couldn’t let those (expletives) win,” he said to screams and cheers from the packed room of about 400 people. “I will always stand for love. I will only stand for love.”
His small band then launched into an upbeat song and he broke into dance, wearing a simple white buttoned shirt, white sneakers and black jeans, shuffling across the front of the stage and at times standing defiantly with a fist in the air.
Smollett kept the tone mostly celebratory before addressing the attack head-on toward the end of his hour-long set, when he told the crowd he wanted to clarify a few things.
He said he was bruised but his ribs were not cracked. He went straight to the doctor but was not hospitalized, and physicians in both Chicago and Los Angeles cleared him to play but told him to be careful.
“And above all, I fought the (expletive) back,” he said to cheers.
Then he paused and said, emphatically but with a laugh, “I’m the gay Tupac.”
Fan Monique Davis said after the show that she was shocked he spoke so bluntly and directly about the incident, but she’s glad he did.
“It was amazing, it was emotional, it was inspiring,” Davis said. “He showed everyone in the room he was strong.”
Smollett told police the men attacked him as he walked home in Chicago early Tuesday, throwing a chemical substance at him in addition to shouting slurs and putting the rope around his neck.
No arrests have been made, and police have not found surveillance video of the attack, though they found footage of Smollett walking home with the rope around his neck.
Smollett had made his first public comments about the incident on Friday in a written statement that said he had been “consistent on every level” with the police during their investigation, countering comments on social media saying he had changed his story and been uncooperative with investigators.
Chicago police also said Smollett has been cooperative and they have found no reason to think he’s not being genuine.
Smollett stars alongside Terence and Taraji P. Henson in “Empire,” the Fox TV show about the power struggles of a family in the music business that is now in its fifth season. The series has allowed Smollett to play, sing and occasionally write music in addition to acting.
Last year he released a solo album, “Sum of My Music, which made up much of Saturday night’s set, along with songs from “Empire.”
He often sits at the piano on the show but stood front and center at the microphone at the Troubadour, the legendary Los Angeles club that helped launch the careers of James Taylor, the Eagles and Elton John.
He was joined in jubilant dance by his family members during his encore.
Earlier, they had taken the stage and voiced their support before he came on.
“To be honest, as his big brother, I wanted him to sit this one out,” Joel Smollett Jr. said. “But we realized this night is an important part of Jussie’s healing. He’s been a fighter since he was a baby. He fought his attackers that night, and he continues to fight.”