“The Jeffersons” Lionel Reveals Drug Battle, Suicide Attempt & His Regular Job After Fame
When most of us first saw actor, Damon Evans, pop up on “The Jeffersons” as “Weezy’s and George’s ‘son,’ we were like, ‘Who dat?!!’ After the original “Lionel Jefferson” actor, Mike Evans (no relation to Damon), left the show, Damon replaced him in 1975. Little did fans know back then though, Damon was unhappy and would soon be headed down a years long battle with himself and drug addiction.
His Addictions & Suicide Attempt
As we previously reported, Damon Evans absolutely hated being a part of “The Jeffersons” and had several problems going on behind the scenes and internally (you can read about that HERE). So in 1978, he left the show and decided to pursue other acting roles, as well as his first passion of singing in the opera. Yep, he can SANG.
Unfortunately, in the years that followed, Damon soon realized Hollywood had mostly typecast him as the ‘comedic character,’ “Lionel.” However, he wanted to prove his diversity. This resulted in grueling struggle of unemployment, with very few acting gigs in between.
In a prior People Magazine article, Damon explained how his lack of jobs, led to depression, then to years of drug addiction. “Getting high was all that mattered…I didn’t have any pride,” Evans admitted. Ultimately, his struggles pushed him to a suicide attempt that fortunately went wrong:
Via People: A depressed and unemployed Evans came close to ending his own life. High on crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, he walked from his upper Manhattan apartment to the George Washington Bridge and contemplated leaping into the Hudson River 250 feet below. “I thought, ‘I can’t go on like this anymore,’ ” Evans recalls. Luckily a lack of nerve—and one nagging thought—kept his feet on the ground. “I was thinking, ‘How am I going to kill myself when I don’t even know myself?’ ” he says.
Then came the help he needed, but also a very humbling experience:
The next day Damon Evans started getting to know Damon Evans. He admitted his drug addiction to his therapist and joined Narcotics Anonymous. To support himself, he took a job in the mail room of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, where he gamely replied “Yes” whenever coworkers asked, “Weren’t you Lionel?” Evans also joined a church and began taking singing lessons.
It’s great that Damon sought the help he desperately needed, but in the beginning the sudden reality of him having to go from “Lionel” the superstar, back to the everyday civilian, working in the mail room, had to a tough adjustment.
What He Accomplished After Getting Clean
Today Damon Evans is 69 years young and has made great strides in his life. In 2007 (at age 56) he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Bronx College in New York. He explained to NPR, why he decided to go to college at an older age:
Damon Evans- “I am useless when I am not active. And to be quite honest, I didn’t have a direction when I went there. I just sort of just said well, let me just see where this goes. I started loving it, I mean, started knowing that I could even write.
And things start evolving and I started tutoring. It’s really been pretty phenomenal. It really was the verbal autobiography that brought this attention to the fact of what I’ve done and I – and for… I talked to the students about what it meant about learning to let go of family, about, you know, following your own course in life, and about confronting the fear of change. And I think, for me, that was the hardest thing – was that I was so afraid to give up my identity as a performer. And you know – but gradually it happened, and of course, there’s this whole new world in life. I was afraid of change.”