Dustin Diamond, actor on ‘Saved by the Bell,’ dies at 44
By Johnny Díaz
Dustin Diamond, the former child actor who found fame on the enduring NBC Saturday-morning sitcom “Saved by the Bell” but struggled to find work in later years, died Monday in Florida. He was 44.
A representative for Diamond, Roger Paul, confirmed the death. He said the cause was carcinoma.
After Diamond went “through some medical testing,” in January, his representatives said in a statement that he had cancer.
From 1989 to 1992, Diamond played Samuel “Screech” Powers on “Saved by the Bell,” which developed a cult following among millennials and members of Generation X and grew into an internet obsession for some fans.
The show followed the day-to-day adventures of a group of loudly dressed friends at the fictional Bayside High School in Palisades, California.
Saturday morning viewers watched Diamond grow up on the show as he played Screech, the sweet-natured, geeky underdog and the dunce among his friends. An ongoing plotline was the character’s unrequited crush on Lisa Turtle, who was played by Lark Voorhies.
Screech was also the comedic sidekick to the popular student Zack Morris, who was played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar. The show’s cast included Mario Lopez as Slater, Elizabeth Berkley as Jessie and Tiffani Thiessen as Kelly, who rounded out the circle of friends.
The show also starred Dennis Haskins as the school principal who mentored and disciplined the group. Diamond appeared in all 86 episodes.
Memorable plotlines included a caffeine pill addiction by Berkley’s character, the friends competing in a dance competition hosted by radio disc jockey Casey Kasem and when “Screech” is asked to make fake IDs so the guys could go to a club.
Diamond was born on Jan. 7, 1977, in San Jose, California, according to IMDB.com, and he said he began acting when he was 8. He also appeared in other series including “The Wonder Years.”
After “Saved by the Bell” ended in 1992, it spun off a prime-time show called “Saved by the Bell: The College Years” that followed the gang in college. The show ran for one season, ending in 1994. From 1994 to 2000, he reprised the role of Screech in a spinoff series, “Saved by the Bell: The New Class.”
After the series ended, Diamond became known for post-stardom troubles, and spoke openly about his struggles finding work.
“The hardest thing about being a child star is giving up your childhood,” Diamond said in 2013 on “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” While he was working on “Saved by the Bell,” he said, he feared being replaced, saying, “You don’t get a childhood, really.”
After the series ended, he said: “I didn’t really know what I was going to do. It was hard to get work that wasn’t Screech-cloned stuff.”
He added: “I had been working for the last 10 years, every single week, and I felt lost. As I mature I realize, ‘Wow, I was kind of going through my rebellious teens in my 20s.’”
Seeking a payout in the mid-2000s, Diamond found tabloid fame with the release of a sex tape that he later spoke of with regret.
“The sex tape is the thing that I’m most embarrassed about,” Diamond said on Winfrey’s documentary show. Although he made some money from the tape, he said, “it wasn’t worth what the fallout was.”
He was also featured on reality shows including “Celebrity Boxing 2” in 2002 and “Celebrity Fit Club,” on VH1, in 2007 where he had conflicts with contestants and coaches.
In 2009, he released a tell-all book called “Behind the Bell” that claimed cast members were using drugs and having sex. Years later, Diamond expressed regret about the book as well, saying it was written by a ghostwriter.
“The book was another disappointment of mine,” he said in Winfrey’s documentary. “I was a first-time author, so they had a ghostwriter. I talked to a guy a few times, so the book has some truth in it, and a lot of the stories were just kind of throwaways.”
Diamond’s problems also extended to court. In 2015, he was accused of stabbing a man during a fight in a Wisconsin bar. Diamond said he had pulled a knife to defend himself; he was convicted of misdemeanor charges, sentenced to four months in jail and ordered to pay more than $1,000 to the man who was stabbed.
In a 2016 interview on “Extra,” Diamond said that were he to meet his former “Saved by the Bell” castmates, he would want to “ask for forgiveness for any kind of misunderstandings that may have come about by the book.” He said he had not seen some of the co-stars for decades.
But Diamond was repeatedly omitted from reunions. In 2015, he was left out of a 2015 skit that gathered the actors on “The Tonight Show,” and in 2020, when “Saved by the Bell” was rebooted on NBC’s “Peacock” streaming service, Diamond was not part of the new series.