WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Before singing a note, Jussie Smollett took the stage and fought back tears as he told the crowd that he had to go on with a Southern California concert 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 Troubador in West Hollywood in his first public appearance since he reported to police in Chicago on Tuesday that two masked men had attacked him and put a rope around his neck while using homophobic and racial slurs.
“I’m not fully healed yet,” said Smollett, who is black and openly gay, “but I’m going to be, and I’m gonna stand strong with y’all.”
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The concert had been planned long before the incident. Family members and others had urged Smollett to cancel the show while he recovers and police investigate.
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. “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.
Smollett kept the tone lighter through a celebratory hour-long set.
He addressed the attack again directly only toward the end of his hour-slong set.
He told the crowd he wanted to clarify a few things. 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, “I’m the gay Tupac.”
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.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” the statement said.
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.
He plays one of three brothers on the show, the openly gay Jamal Lyon. 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.