Inside The Tragic Death Of Jonathan Brandis, The 1990s Teenage Heartthrob Who Took His Own Life In 2003

Published May 23, 2024
Updated May 24, 2024

Once one of Hollywood's biggest teen idols, Jonathan Brandis died by suicide in November 2003 at age 27 after experiencing a lull in his career.

Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.

Jonathan Brandis Death

Wikimedia CommonsJonathan Brandis was a child star and a teen idol before he tragically died in 2003 at the age of just 27.

Jonathan Brandis’ death in 2003 came as a great shock to everyone, both his loved ones and his fans. After all, the former teenage heartthrob was only 27 years old with a seemingly bright acting career ahead of him at the time of his death.

His journey from child model to actor in Hollywood films was highly publicized in teen magazines and celebrity gossip columns of the 1990s. For years, Brandis was Hollywood’s brightest teen star.

Then, after suffering a series of career failures, Jonathan Brandis died by suicide in his Los Angeles apartment. This is his tragic story.

The Early Life Of Jonathan Brandis As A Child Actor

Jonathan Brandis was born in Danbury, Connecticut on April 13, 1976, to his parents Mary and Gregory. His parents were the typical American middle-class couple, with his mother working as a teacher and his father as a firefighter.

As an infant, Brandis had a distinct cherubic appearance that caught the attention of child modeling agencies. His first gig was modeling for Buster Brown shoes at only two years old. A couple of years later, Brandis started appearing in television commercials.

Then, at six years old, Brandis scored the role of Kevin Buchanan in the television series One Life to Live.

Jonathan Brandis In The It Miniseries

Cinematic/Alamy Stock PhotoJonathan Brandis (center) starred as Bill Denbrough in Stephen King’s It.

At nine years old, Brandis and his family moved to Los Angeles to score better acting opportunities, and there the young boy’s career really started to take off.

Brandis Becomes A Teen Heartthrob

Throughout his teenage years, Brandis appeared in several shows, including Full House, Who’s the Boss, and The Wonder Years.

Brandis’ big break came in 1990 when he landed his first leading role as Bastian Bux in The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter. The same year, he starred as young Bill Denbrough in Stephen King’s miniseries It. His performance in the role won him critical acclaim and opened up new doors, including roles in Hollywood films like Sidekicks and Ladybugs.

His most critical role was Lucas Wolenczak in Steven Spielberg’s 1990s series seaQuest DSV. His performance in the show’s three-season run projected him to teen idol status, and his likeness appeared in several teen gossip magazines around the country.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Brandis received some 4,000 fan letters a week and even came in #1 on Seventeen Magazine’s reader poll of the 10 sexiest guys.

Teen Idol Jonathan Brandis

dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock PhotoAs a teen idol, Jonathan Brandis graced the cover of countless magazines in the 1990s.

Thousands of young women would flock to the studio to catch a glimpse and take photos of the star whose rise to fame seemed unstoppable. While the series was being filmed, he needed three security guards to escort him through the studio lot.

Jonathan Brandis’ Faltering Career Paves The Way For His Death

In his prime, Jonathan Brandis had high hopes for his career, often telling interviewers that he wished to direct and write one day.

“I want to be remembered as an actor who put in some good work in the beginning of his career, even better work at the end of his career and slowly, successfully made the transition into writing and directing,” he told the Hartford Courant in 1994, according to Nicki Swift.

However, the opportunity never seemed to come for Jonathan Brandis, and his career took a dip after seaQuest DSV’s cancellation in 1996.

He appeared in several other television shows and even a few films, but his lack of mobility in the Hollywood scene coupled with his increasing age became points of anxiety for the actor.

Seaquest Dsv

United Archives GmbH/Alamy Stock PhotoJonathan Brandis skyrocketed to greater fame while starring in Steven Spielberg’s 1990s TV series seaQuest DSV.

In the years preceding his death, Brandis starred in the film Bad Girls from Valley High, which was shelved. Although it was later released on DVD in 2005, Brandis never saw its release.

His next film was Hart’s War in 2002, starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell. Brandis hoped that it would rekindle his struggling career, but those hopes were dashed when editors cut many of his scenes out of the final film.

Brandis even reportedly auditioned for the role of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, but the casting directors figured the mid-twenties actor was too old.

After seeing Brandis’ performance in his last film Puerto Vallarta Squeeze, co-star Harvey Keitel told the film’s producer that Brandis had a bright future ahead of him.

“Harvey even said to me a couple of times, ‘This kid is good,'” producer Robert Katz recalled to People. “When we were in the editing room looking at him, we all said, ‘This guy’s going to have a big career.'”

Unfortunately, Jonathan Brandis would die by suicide just a few months before the film’s release.

The Haunting Story Of Jonathan Brandis’ Death

On Nov. 11, 2003, a friend of Jonathan Brandis arrived at the star’s Hollywood apartment around 11:40 p.m. There, he found Brandis handing in the hallway.

Home Where Jonathan Brandis Died

Barry King/Alamy Stock PhotoJonathan Brandis’ home, where a friend tragically found him in a suicide attempt.

The friend immediately called the police, and emergency responders arrived on the scene and transported Brandis to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

Hospital staff did all they could, but Brandis’ injuries were too severe. He was pronounced dead on Nov. 12, 2003, at 2:45 p.m. At the time of his death, Brandis was only 27 years old.

Given the evidence at the scene, LAPD declared Brandis’ death a suicide.

The World Reacts To Brandis’ Suicide

Although the star did not leave a suicide note, Jonathan Brandis reportedly “told people that he was going to kill himself,” People reported. Around the time of his death, Brandis was also drinking heavily and was lonely and depressed about his waning career.

He had even made an unannounced visit to his parents a few days before his death.

“He wanted to be with us. We knew something was wrong,” his mother stated, according to Newstimes. “We knew something was weighing on him, but we didn’t know what it was or how bad it was.”

For Brandis’ friends, family, and fans, the news of his death was devastating.

“When I heard about it, I said, ‘No, no, no, wrong guy,'” Robert Katz told People.

Death Of Jonathan Brandis

Barry King / Alamy Stock PhotoJonathan Brandis was only 27 when he died.

Following Brandis’ death, thousands of his fans rallied online to create memorial pages. Some fans even contacted the Los Angeles County Coroner to get first-hand confirmation of the star’s death.

“We had dozens of e-mails. First it was, ‘Is it true? Is it true? Is it true?’ then it was, ‘How did he die? How did he die? How did he die?'” County Coroner David Campbell told Newstimes.

Groups like True Obsession to Brandis (TO2B) and Jonathan’s Angels spread the news of the actor’s death in the subsequent months.

“I followed his entire career. I wrote him a fan letter just three weeks before he died,” a fan identified as Weaver wrote to Newstimes in an email. “He is the only thing that was good about my childhood, and now I feel like my childhood has been shattered.”

For others, it was yet another tragic conclusion that befalls so many child actors.

Jonathan Brandis’ Legacy In The Wake Of His Untimely Death

As the years passed, the newer generations fawned over their own idols, and the story of Jonathan Brandis became one that only a handful of people remembered.

Gregory And Mary Brandis

Barry King/Alamy Stock PhotoJonathan Brandis with his parents, Gregory and Mary.

Then, in 2021, former child star Soleil Moon Frye released her documentary Kid90, a film exploring her life as a young actor and her relationship with her co-stars, including Jonathan Brandis.

“I found so many voicemails Jonathan left me when we were kids,” the actress stated to People. “Some of them were 10 minutes long, his innermost thoughts. It just made me cry listening to them. He was a real friend.”

The discussion around Jonathan Brandis inspired his father to speak about him, stating that his son likely struggled with mental illness.

“Jonathan was very smart and he was very polite and always easygoing,” Greg Brandis told People. “In a sad way, he was probably bipolar. [His death] wasn’t due to the entertainment industry. I look back now, and in his 20s, he showed signs of manic depression. I hope that anyone suffering can go get help.”

The memory of Jonathan Brandis was also preserved by the thousands of fans who used social media to create far-reaching fan pages and edits of the star.

Today, these posts celebrate the star’s life, career, and legacy as a Hollywood star lost too soon.

After reading about the life and death of Jonathan Brandis, dive into the story of River Phoenix’s tragic death. Then, read about the heartbreaking death of child actor Corey Haim.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their 24/7 Lifeline Crisis Chat.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
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.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Morgan, Amber. "Inside The Tragic Death Of Jonathan Brandis, The 1990s Teenage Heartthrob Who Took His Own Life In 2003.", May 23, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.