Inside The Tragic Death Of Dustin Diamond Just Three Weeks After His Cancer Diagnosis

Published March 2, 2024
Updated March 4, 2024

Best known as Screech on Saved by the Bell, Dustin Diamond died from lung cancer in February 2021 at the age of 44 — even though he never smoked.

On Feb. 1, 2021, Dustin Diamond died in Cape Coral, Florida. The actor had only recently been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Diamond was just 44 years old when he succumbed to this sudden but brutal illness.

He was a hard-working and high-spirited child actor, though he was the most well-known for one character: the dorky Samuel “Screech” Powers on the hit TV show Saved by the Bell.

Dustin Diamond Death

MediaPunch Inc / Alamy Stock PhotoDustin Diamond died from stage four lung cancer when he was just 44.

Fans of the show grew to love Screech, who represented the stereotypical nerd trope that was popular in ’80s media. Despite Diamond’s success on television, he found that being known for only one character he played as a teen prevented him from securing roles as an adult. He became somewhat lost, and he struggled to parlay his early fame into a lasting career in acting. He also grew to dislike appearing in public because people would make fun of him online.

In fact, this fear of ridicule is what stopped Diamond from seeking treatment for his concerning symptoms sooner. And by the time he finally did go to the doctor, it was far too late.

This is the heartbreaking story of Dustin Diamond’s death.

Dustin Diamond’s Life And Career

Dustin Neil Diamond was born on Jan. 7, 1977, in San Jose, California. When he was eight years old, an agent discovered him in a department store while he was imitating a mannequin. This led to his first appearance in a film called Purple People Eater with up-and-coming actors Neil Patrick Harris and Thora Birch.

Shortly after, Dustin Diamond auditioned for the role of Samuel “Screech” Powers on the TV show Good Morning, Miss Bliss. The show only lasted one season, but Screech lived on in its successor, Saved by the Bell, which ran for four seasons on NBC.

Saved By The Bell Cast

Photo 12 / Alamy Stock PhotoDustin Diamond as Screech (far left) with the cast of Saved by the Bell.

Diamond played the role of Screech off and on for 12 years in Saved by the Bell and its two spin-offs. He also appeared as a guest host on multiple shows and had several small roles in movies. He even dabbled in the music industry, playing bass on an album with his band Salty the Pocketknife in 2003.

The actor also faced several legal challenges after his time on Saved by the Bell. In 2006, Diamond released a sex tape, though he later confessed that he hadn’t actually appeared in it — he’d used a stunt double. And in 2014, he was involved in a bar fight in which a man was stabbed. Diamond was arrested for possession of a switchblade knife and served three months in jail. Two years later, he was arrested again for violating the terms of his probation.

Dustin Diamond’s personal life was not highly publicized, but he was in a long-term relationship with a woman named Jennifer Misner. In 2004, Misner suffered a miscarriage from an ectopic pregnancy. This inspired Diamond to start the Dustin Diamond Foundation, raising funds for disabled children’s treatments.

“Jennifer and I had lost our first child and didn’t know how to handle it,” the actor told the Tampa Bay Times in 2006. “We were dealt a bad hand, but it brings us happiness to help other parents who are going through difficulties with their children.”

Sadly, Diamond would soon be facing his own serious medical issues.

Dustin Diamond’s Cause Of Death

Diamond reportedly first noticed a golf ball-sized lump on his neck the summer before he died. However, he didn’t want to go to the doctor because he was worried people would take photos of the mass and share them online.

His friend Dan Block told The Sun, “It started off as a tumor on his neck — a huge lump on his throat — and it was very visible… I know that the reason he didn’t get help is because when he goes out people take pictures, put [them] on the internet, and say not nice things about him. He’s subject to public ridicule all the time.”

“We just hope it’s not too late,” Block continued. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case.

Dustin Diamond On Celebrity Big Brother

Doug Peters / Alamy Stock PhotoDustin Diamond appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in 2013.

Diamond was diagnosed with stage four small cell carcinoma of the lungs in mid-January 2021. The disease is usually seen in smokers — but Dustin never smoked. Instead, he thought the cancer may have been caused by mold and asbestos in the cheap hotels he stayed in while he was touring as a stand-up comedian.

Regardless of the cause, however, Diamond’s prognosis was grim. Still, the actor tried to remain positive, and he even started his first round of chemotherapy. On Jan. 21, 2021, his representative, Roger Paul, told NBC News, “Dustin is looking forward to spending more time with his girlfriend, playing his bass guitar/video games, as well as making videos for his fans on social media.”

But Diamond died at home less than two weeks later. He was just 44 years old.

Paul released a statement about Dustin Diamond’s cause of death:

“He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago. In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”

The Beloved Actor’s Legacy

As shocked as fans were to learn of the initial cancer diagnosis, they were even more stunned to hear about Dustin Diamond’s death. His Saved by the Bell co-stars were equally taken aback, and they quickly turned to social media to honor their friend.

“Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dustin Diamond, a true comedic genius,” Mark-Paul Gosselaar told PEOPLE at the time. “Looking back at our time working together, I will miss those raw, brilliant sparks that only he was able to produce.”

“Dustin, you will be missed my man,” Mario Lopez wrote on Instagram. “The fragility of this life is something never to be taken for granted. Prayers for your family will continue on.”

Death Of Dustin Diamond

Wikimedia CommonsAfter Dustin Diamond’s death, NASCAR driver Josh Bilicki drove a specially decorated racecar as tribute to the actor.

Tori Spelling also posted a photo of their characters, writing, “Before there was David and Donna… there was Screech and Violet. Dustin was my first on-screen kiss,” she wrote. “RIP Samuel. Love, your Violet.”

“Dustin Diamond was a character in and of himself: an unpredictable spitfire who always left us shocked but never left us bored,” Paul said in a statement to E! News. “We are thankful he trusted us enough to share his genuine, authentic self with our team. We wish you knew him in the way that we did.”

After reading about Dustin Diamond’s cause of death, take a trip down memory lane with these 44 photos from the heyday of mall culture. Then, learn about the sad death of ’90s R&B star Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.