Dustin Diamond, the actor best known for playing Samuel “Screech” Powers on Saved by the Bell, has died at 44 from stage 4 small cell carcinoma. Diamond’s representatives revealed the diagnosis on January 14, following his hospitalization and a series of tests.
The former child star became one of the most beloved characters on NBC’s teen sitcom staple, a sort of paragon for affable, slightly ditzy nerds to look up to. Every high school seemed to have a Screech — someone spindly and funny enough to maneuver their way into the popular circles, based on sheer will and charisma alone. He starred alongside Mario Lopez and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and appeared in all 86 episodes of the show’s initial run.
Although Diamond became something of a cult hero, regularly booked for conventions across the country even in his final years, he was often candid about his struggles in show business. Diamond penned the tell-all memoir Behind the Bell in 2009, which painted his on-set treatment and former colleagues in an extremely unsavory light. He later spoke about regretting the book, which Diamond says exaggerated the truth, partly due to a ghostwriter running with fabricated offhand comments.
Diamond spent much of the early Aughts trying to chase a return to stardom, and obliterating any vestiges of his childhood innocence. This included a self-aware, self-directed 2006 sex tape, Screeched – Saved by the Smell, which Diamond would also later walk back as an embarrassing moment. He appeared in a number of reality shows and comedy cameos around this same time, ranging from Celebrity Boxing 2 and a volatile turn on Celebrity Fit Club to Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.
His Saved by the Bell co-stars paid loving tribute to Diamond on Monday, with Gosselaar hailing him as a “true comedic genius,” and sending condolences to his family. “Dustin, you will be missed my man. The fragility of this life is something never to be taken for granted,” Lopez wrote on Twitter.