Dustin Diamond, best known for playing Screech on NBC’s beloved 1980s and ’90s teen sitcom Saved By the Bell, has died, outlets are reporting. The 44-year-old actor was diagnosed with carcinoma, a type of cancer, three weeks ago and entered the hospital, Variety reports.
“In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution,” Diamond’s representatives said in a statement. “Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”
In January, his rep told NBC News that Diamond had begun chemotherapy for stage 4 lung cancer.
Diamond’s showbiz break came in 1989, when Saved By the Bell premiered and quickly became a fan favorite among the teens and young people who watched it on Saturday mornings. His character, the geeky Samuel “Screech” Powers, was a mainstay and appeared in every season throughout its run, culminating in 1993. From there, Diamond reprised Screech in the show’s follow-ups, Saved By the Bell: The College Years, through 1994, and Saved By the Bell: The New Class, through 2000.
His post-Bell years were characterized by a host of appearances in films and television shows, often as himself, including on the reality programs Celebrity Fit Club, Celebrity Boxing, and Celebrity Big Brother. He also toured as a comedian and wrote a tell-all book, Behind the Bell, in 2009, a project he said came about as a way to answer fans’ lingering questions about the show and its behind-the-scenes stories. “Some people are saying ‘Oh, he’s just trying to dish on people,’ but I’m putting out what the audience is asking for,” he told MTV News then. “Everybody’s been asking these questions for years. So this is for the fans.”
His Bell co-star Mario Lopez paid tribute to him on Twitter, writing, “Dustin, you will be missed my man. The fragility of this life is something never to be taken for granted. Prayers for your family will continue on…”