Dustin Diamond remembered as the child star in the TV comedy show “Saved by the Bell” died on Monday from lung cancer at the age 44.
Diamond was admitted to a Florida hospital in early January with doctors confirming he was undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 cancer. A rep for Diamond told EW the cancer “spread rapidly throughout his system” and he died just three weeks after being admitted to the hospital. After news of his death broke, his former Saved by the Bell costars paid tribute to the actor who played nerdy sidekick Samuel “Screech” Powers on the NBC sitcom.
Everywhere Dustin Diamond went in Southwest Florida, fans would call him by his TV character’s name.
They’d shout, “Hey Screech!”
Or: “Oh my God, it’s Screech!”
Did Diamond like it? Not really, says friend Brian Anderson, singer for Lee County rock band Smack Daddy.
But the former child star never let it show.
“When people would see him out, he always gave them time, you know what I mean?” Anderson says. “He always took pictures with them, and he was always super nice.
“I think it bothered him, but he didn’t let people know it bothered him.”
The “Saved by the Bell” star died Monday at his Cape Coral home after a month-long battle with cancer, according to friends and an obituary posted Wednesday by Cape Coral’s Mullins Memorial Funeral Home. He’d lived in the city since 2018.
Private services for the family will be held at the funeral home, says owner Shannon Mullins. No public events are planned.
Diamond, 44, was best known for playing the brainy, often irritating Samuel “Screech” Powers on the TV sitcom “Saved by the Bell” from the late ’80s through 2000. He reprised the role on spin-offs “The College Years” and “The New Class.”
He later toured the country as a stand-up comedian, including stops at Laugh-In Comedy Cafe in Fort Myers and Off The Hook Comedy Club on Marco Island (before the venue moved to Naples). He also appeared in small movie roles and on reality TV shows such as “Celebrity Fit Club,” “Celebrity Boxing 2″ and “Celebrity Big Brother.”
Diamond moved to Cape Coral after appearing at a 2018 charity event for Bikes for Tykes at Fort Myers nightclub Buddha LIVE, says longtime friend Danny Sweep of Cape Coral. Diamond didn’t perform that day, as planned, since he was recovering from an abscessed tooth. But he still flew to Fort Myers to mingle with people, sign autographs and pose for photos.
“And he never left,” Sweep says.
Diamond lived with Sweep for about eight months before moving out, Sweep says. He was living with his Cape Coral girlfriend when he died.
Diamond loved Southwest Florida and its music scene, Sweep says, and the bass player dreamed of starting a tribute band celebrating the music of metal act Tool. He’d even started interviewing local musicians for the job.
“He got some bass amps. He got some bass guitars,” Sweep says. “He was passionate, passionate. He was always practicing.
“I’d go out to work and come home and he’d still be playing his bass. My neighbors hated him (laughs).”
Diamond became a fixture at local nightclubs and bars, where he’d hang out with friends and see some of his favorite local bands.
“He was a nightlife dude,” says Andy Howl, co-owner of Howl Gallery, who became friends with Diamond after he performed stand-up at the Fort Myers venue. “He was always out, for better or worse. … He definitely was partying too much and not taking care of himself.”
That was one of the reasons Diamond moved to Cape Coral, friends say. He wanted to start over in a new city and try to kick his much-publicized drug addiction.
“He felt like he had a better chance of moving toward a better life,” says musician Bob Tabarrini, who met Diamond at a show with Tabarrini’s band A200. “Because there’s a lot of good people down here. I think the people he met here, he felt a warm, welcoming energy from them.
“And I think he wanted that. I think he wanted a family who cared about who he was now, not who he was in the past.”
Even so, Diamond’s battle with addiction wasn’t always successful.
“He would have little stretches where he would do real great,” says Tabarrini, who is himself a recovering addict. “That’s the classic of recovery. Very few people get it right the first time.”
But despite his addictions and his famous past, Diamond didn’t act like a TV star at all, friends say. He was just a down-to-earth guy who wanted to go to bars and talk to his friends about bands and music. Your stories live here. Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.
“He was just one of the guys,” Anderson says. “He just wanted to hang out and fit in.”
He may not have acted like a celebrity, but Diamond still had the same star quality that had turned Screech into a household name in the ’80s, Tabarrini says. You noticed it immediately.
“It just radiated out of him,” Tabarrini says. “There’s a reason that he was a star. … I was like, ‘Yeah, I get it.’
“His brain worked on a different level. It really did. It processed things with a filter that was just uniquely Dustin.”
And he was super funny, too, Anderson says.
“He was very, very witty,” he says. “He loved to make people laugh. He wasn’t quirky like you’d think, not like his character back on ‘Saved by the Bell.’
“He had a lot of one-liners. He had a ton of one-liners. He was always trying to one-up you.”
Diamond was diagnosed with carcinoma in January, but Sweep says he’d been feeling symptoms long before he actually went to a doctor.
“He started feeling a little weird,” Sweep says. “His stomach was a little upset… But he didn’t want to go to doctor. He was like, ‘Ah, I’ll live through anything. It’s alright.’ He didn’t want to think about it.”
Then, about a month ago, Diamond found a big abscess on his neck. He got it tested and found out it was stage 4 cancer.
“He was going to start chemo to prolong his life,” Sweep says. “But they pretty much said that it was done.”
Diamond’s longtime agent, Roger Paul, said the cancer spread rapidly throughout Diamond’s body. “The only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution,” he told USA TODAY. “Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”
Diamond loved his fans and always made time for them when they recognized him on the street, Paul told The News-Press and The Naples Daily News. And even though he didn’t always like being called Screech, he eventually embraced it.
“You don’t find that many people with that kind of reach,” Paul said. “He loved the fans, and always made sure his fans got autographs and pictures.
“He’s a great guy and no one got to really see that side of him.”
Not the public, at least. But in Southwest Florida, he was starting to make a name for himself.
And that name wasn’t Screech.
“He made a lot of friends here,” Sweep says. “In the end, people didn’t know him as Screech… He wasn’t that guy on TV at all. He was Dustin.”
Diamond is survived by his girlfriend Tash in Cape Coral; his father Mark Diamond of California, and other family members, according to his obituary.
Memorial contributions in memory of Dustin Neil Diamond can be made to The Susan G. Komen Foundation, 13770 Noel Road, Suite 801889, Dallas, TX 75380.