Just Jonathan


After more than a decade of silence, actress Danielle Harris speaks intimately, and exclusively for the LifeAfter Project, about the death of her best friend, actor Jonathan Brandis.

Actress Danielle-Harris

Jonathan spent most of his life in the entertainment industry. While growing up, his main competition were kids such as Leonardo Decaprio and River Phoenix.

Without warning, at 27 years old, Jonathan Brandis committed suicide on November 12, 2003, outside his apartment in West Hollywood.

He did not leave a note to explain why he was suffering. Rumors immediately began to circulate as to why he did it. His family, friends and millions of fans around the world were left behind to pick up the pieces of the puzzle.

Danielle shares a very personal view into Jonathan’s life.

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He was my best friend for ten years…

How do you even begin to write about a relationship with someone that was as dynamic as Jonathan Brandis?

I haven’t written that name in over a decade, and I’ve never put this story down on paper, yet I still think about him all the time.

Maybe that’s because the trauma that comes along with being left behind to put the pieces together from a loved one who commits suicide is so great it takes decades to accept. Trying to comprehend and going over 10+ years of moments that could’ve been signs of mental illness, when I just thought those were Brandis’ quirks and the reason why he was one in a million.

I’ll never forget the moment I got the call.

It was from a mutual friend (that at the time wasn’t even that close with Jonathan) she called me and asked me if I was sitting down.  In a panic, I sat on the floor and she said those words I’ll never forget.

“Jonathan killed himself last night.”

“WHAT??!!

NO.
NO.
NOOOOOO.

It’s a joke or a prank or he’s just playing some game to see who his real friends are.
God, please tell me this isn’t real.
Time stood still.

All was quiet except for the sound of my heart that was beating out of my chest.

I hung up on her and called Jonathan.
His voicemail picked up and all I remember was me screaming
into the phone;

“JONATHAN!!!  HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?!!!!!  DID YOU KILL YOURSELF??!!  JONATHAN, PLEASE TELL ME YOU DIDN’T KILL YOURSELF!!!  OH MY GOD PLEASE.”

And I hung up.

I called my mom hysterical, screaming and crying.  She told me to calm down and breathe.

Looking back in retrospect, it’s like I knew he did it and I needed him to hear my anger and pain so I left him that message knowing he could hear me somehow.

jonathan-brandis 1My friend, who called me with the news, came over, and we drove to Jonathan’s apartment.  I had been calling his three other best friends who weren’t picking up the phone.  I pulled up to his apartment and banged on the door and rang the manager of the building over and over again until he finally came down and yelled at me to go away.

I said I just wanted to know if it was true and to please give me any info he has.  I told him that I was one of his best friends.

 “IF I were his best friend, I would know what happened …” He said.

Which caused me to break down in hysterics again.

Was he right? Should I have “known” all along, being his best friend, what happened or what was going to happen??

He offered me a clue as I was heading out the door.

“Call the RIC unit at Cedars” he shouted…

I jumped in the car and called the hospital as I started to drive over there.
What was an RIC unit?!
If he had killed himself wouldn’t he be in a morgue or somewhere other than the hospital?

Is he ALIVE???

Please God, let him still be alive.

When I got to the emergency room, I told the nurses in admitting that I was looking for Jonathan Brandis and someone said he was there in the RIC (respiratory intensive care) unit.  I told them that I was his best friend, and I needed their help.

They were so kind to me as I sat with them in their cubicle (shaking uncontrollably at this point) while they searched their database.

After about 10 minutes they came back over to me and finally told me in the most loving way a stranger could,

“He was taken here late last night, but unfortunately he’s no longer with us. I’m so very sorry.”

I sat for a few moments and cried.  They held my hands and offered me water.  I didn’t have Jonathan’s parents number on my phone, so I left it with the nurse in admitting and asked if she could call his mom and have her call me.

The next morning Jonathan’s mom called me and told me everything.

Jonathan hung himself from the wood beam outside his front door in his apartment building.

My ex-boyfriend who was also one of Jonathan’s best friends was inside reading a magazine before he crashed out and thought Jonathan had gone to sleep. When he went in to say goodnight and tell him he was leaving, he assumed he had already fallen asleep and walked out the front door to find his body hanging there by torn pillowcases.

Luckily he was able to cut him down and perform CPR while the other house guests that were over that night called 911.

Jonathan was taken to the hospital and kept alive on life support for the evening until the doctors could confirm that he was legally brain dead.

His parents made the decision that no parents should ever be forced to make.
They had to pull the plug.  Jonathan would not have wanted to be kept alive by machines.
He would not have wanted to be a vegetable.

Jonathan was gone. A dynamic, brilliant one of a kind man.  Now he was gone. Only 27 years old.

jb1Over the next two days, my phone blew up.
Word spread like wildfire, and everyone came out of the woodwork wanting to know the gory details.

People that Jonathan would’ve cursed at or laughed till he cried tears (had he witnessed the fiasco) at the absurdity of their sudden interest in his passing.  Most of whom couldn’t give a shit about him when he was alive.  One “friend” even threw a catered memorial at her Hollywood mini-mansion with about 60 of his closest “friends.”

I don’t think Jonathan had talked to the hostess in well over a decade, not to mention the slew of child actors that came out to cry and tell stories.

I sat in the corner with a few of his real friends, and we just watched in amusement.  I guess everyone has a right to mourn and pay their respects even if we knew the reality.

Jonathan was one in a million, but sometimes a lot to handle.

He had a small group of friends (about five of us), and that was all he let in.
We did what typical creative twenty-somethings do.  We played board games, drank a little wine or whiskey from time to time, went out to bars or clubs, ordered food delivery at three in the morning from Pink Dot, played chess and made short films with a video camera when we were bored.

Jonathan was anti-dugs and wouldn’t even walk into a party if he smelled marijuana.

He had odd little quirks that over time I found charming.
He would change his infamous white t-shirt at least once during a visit, and he was constantly wetting his hair.
He would come out of the bathroom soaking wet and just laugh that maniacal laugh that only he could get away with.
He would play practical jokes on me and leave me insane, yet utterly brilliant messages constantly on my answering machine.

God, what I would do today just to have one of those messages saved.

After about ten years of being his wing woman, I suddenly started to develop romantic feelings for him.  It completely took me by surprise.  At this point in our friendship, I was extremely close with Jon’s ex-girlfriend Tatiana Ali, and he was besties with my ex-boyfriend Jeff.  I knew this might be complicated, but Jon and I were friends for many years before either one of these relationships even existed and we had all been out of those relationships for at least three years, so there was no stopping us.

He was filming a movie in Prague for three months, and I told him I was going to be the only friend that would visit him.  Our other friends said they would too, but I wanted to be the one that actually came through…and I also wanted to see if there was something romantic on the horizon for us.  I hadn’t shared my feelings yet with him, but I was giddy with excitement.  Could I have fallen in love with my best friend??
I did.

We toured and explored the Czech Republic and in typical Brandis fashion.

He took me to a travel agency the morning of his first day off. It was the beginning of his week-long vacation.  He told me to close my eyes and to point to a spot on the big map on the wall.

Three hours later we were headed to Paris, France.

We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, and he booked us a table our first night there at one of the most expensive restaurants in Paris.  Of course, Jon only brought a pair of army pants and a thermal, so when we got there, they balked at him and immediately ushered him away to another room to dress him in a suit coat and tie.  He looked like an 80’s porn star and thought it was hysterical.  So typical of Jonathan to find humor In something so absurd.

We laughed, loved and then fought…and fought.

There was never a dull moment.  Whether it be in friendship or romantic relationship, there were predictable/unpredictable irrational outbursts followed by heartfelt apologies.  This never ended.  I never thought of it as anything more than it was “Just Jonathan.”  I never judged him, and I loved him regardless.  Our relationship lasted in secret for almost a year on and off and the entire time I couldn’t break the ties, yet there was always something inside that felt like it wasn’t right and I couldn’t do it.

Jonathan had extreme highs and very dark lows.  I didn’t think that it was possibly a combination of depression and most likely one or more mental illnesses until after he committed suicide.

Sitting down with our other friends after he committed suicide, we all shared stories.  The common thread was frustration, confusion, and pain.

If we had only…

If we had only talked to one another about the things he was saying and doing.
If we had only thought to get him help.

Would he have even gone to get help?
Could we have saved him?
Would he still be here?
Was this my fault for not committing to him?

I’ll never have definitive answers to any of my questions, but I do know the answer to the “theory” that was put out in the press…

#1 He did not kill himself because his career was hurting.

He could give a shit about his career. He was always working, had recently sold a home which left him financially stable and was directing and writing.

His “career” had nothing to do with it and the press making accusations that Jonathan Brandis hung himself because he didn’t get a pilot.  That pilot season was a fucking laughable joke.

To put things into perspective, he printed up a t-shirt that said “FUCK PILOT SEASON” and wore it to all his pilot auditions.

Did I mention that he booked a pilot wearing that t-shirt during that pilot season too?

That’s “Just Jonathan.”

I’ll never really know what was going on in his mind that night he made the decision to end his pain, but I know a few things for sure.

Jonathan needed help, and he didn’t get it.  This was his choice ultimately.

Mental illness is a horrible disease that takes some of the most amazing people away from us too soon.  It is not the fault of the people they decide to leave behind, and I’m no longer mad at him for deciding to take his life.

I was blessed to know him and share so many years of memories with him.
It has taken me many years to forgive myself and to forgive him.

I’ll never understand the pain he must have felt, but I’m grateful he’s not in pain anymore.  I miss him every day, and he’ll always have a place in my heart.

There are resources available, and if this story saves one person, I’ll be forever grateful.

Please get help.

Please know that the there are better ways to deal with the pain.  Pain that I know is very, very real. There are a lot of people who love you, that you will leave behind.

Mental illness cannot be self-diagnosed nor self-medicated, and it won’t just simply go away.

Suicide is not the answer.

Please.

One day I’ll see him again, and when that day comes, I know he’ll be waiting with that white t-shirt and wet hair to greet me with that maniacal “Just Jonathan” laugh and those big bright blue eyes…and he will be HAPPY.