Michael Jeter was a talented and versatile actor who appeared in many films, television shows, and stage productions. He was best known for his roles as Herman Stiles in the sitcom Evening Shade, Eduard Delacroix in the film The Green Mile, and Mister Noodle in Sesame Street. He won an Emmy Award, a Tony Award, and received several other nominations and accolades for his work. He was also openly gay and HIV-positive, and he used his platform to raise awareness and fight stigma. He died at the age of 50 in 2003 from complications after an epileptic seizure. Here is the tragic story of his life and death.
Early Life and Career
Michael Jeter was born on August 26, 1952, in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. He was the son of a dentist and a housewife, and he had one brother and four sisters. He attended Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) with the intention of becoming a doctor, but he changed his mind and pursued acting instead. He performed in several plays and musicals at local theaters in Memphis before moving to Baltimore, Maryland, to further his career.
Jeter made his film debut in the anti-war musical Hair in 1979, playing a minor role as Woodrow Sheldon. He then appeared in various films and television shows throughout the 1980s, such as Ragtime, Zelig, The Money Pit, Dead Bang, Tango & Cash, Night Court, and Designing Women. He often played eccentric, pretentious, or wimpy characters who provided comic relief or contrast to the main protagonists.
Jeter’s breakthrough role came in 1990 when he was cast as Herman Stiles, a math teacher and assistant football coach, in the sitcom Evening Shade. The show starred Burt Reynolds as a former NFL player who returns to his hometown in Arkansas to coach a high school football team. Jeter’s character was a nervous and neurotic sidekick to Reynolds’ character, and he often delivered witty and sarcastic lines. Jeter won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1992 for his performance, and he also received two Golden Globe nominations.
Personal Life and Health Issues
Jeter was openly gay and had been in a relationship with Sean Blue since 1995. He came out publicly in 1997 during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. He said that he wanted to be honest about his sexuality and to help other gay people who might be struggling with their identity or facing discrimination. He also revealed that he was HIV-positive, but that he had been healthy for many years thanks to medication and lifestyle changes.
Jeter had been diagnosed with HIV in 1997 after he collapsed on the set of Evening Shade. He said that he had contracted the virus from a former partner who had died of AIDS. He admitted that he had been addicted to drugs and alcohol in the past, but that he had overcome his substance abuse problems with the help of therapy and support groups. He said that he was not afraid of dying, but that he wanted to live as long as possible and enjoy his work and his relationship.
Jeter also suffered from epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures. He had been taking medication to control his condition, but he still experienced occasional episodes. He said that he had learned to cope with his seizures by staying calm and breathing deeply. He also said that he had a strong faith in God and that he believed that everything happened for a reason.
Death and Legacy
On March 30, 2003, Jeter was found dead in his home in Hollywood Hills, California. He was 50 years old. The cause of death was determined to be complications after an epileptic seizure that resulted in asphyxiation. His partner Sean Blue said that they had spoken on the phone the night before and that Jeter had seemed fine. He said that Jeter had been working on a new film project called The Polar Express, an animated adaptation of a children’s book starring Tom Hanks.
Jeter’s death shocked and saddened many people who knew him or admired his work. His co-stars from Evening Shade paid tribute to him and remembered him as a kind, funny, and generous person who always made them laugh. His colleagues from Sesame Street said that he was a joy to work with and that he loved playing Mister Noodle, a character who taught children how to do simple tasks through trial and error. His fans expressed their condolences and appreciation for his talent and courage.
Jeter’s final film role was The Polar Express, which was released posthumously in 2004. The filmmakers were able to use the footage they had already recorded with Jeter before his death, and they dedicated the film to his memory. Jeter played Smokey and Steamer, two train engineers who help Hanks’ character, the conductor, to take a group of children to the North Pole. Jeter’s voice and likeness were also used in the video game adaptation of the film.
Jeter’s legacy lives on through his films, television shows, and stage productions, which showcase his range and versatility as an actor. He also left behind a legacy of activism and advocacy for the gay and HIV-positive communities, as well as for people with epilepsy. He was a brave and inspiring figure who faced his challenges with humor and grace. He once said, “I’m supposed to be here, and I’m supposed to contribute something to this world.” He certainly did.