What happened to '90s star Jonathan Brandis?

This article deals with suicide and could be triggering for some readers.

In 1993, up-and-coming actor Jonathan Brandis, then 17, was signed to star in season one of SeaQuest DSV, with the legendary Steven Spielberg as executive producer.

The blue-eyed, floppy-haired teenager became an overnight success and teen heartthrob, often pictured on the cover of fan favourite magazines. 

Many Gen-Xers and elder millennials might not recall his work, but they will remember his name and his face.

Watch: The project panel talk about suicide and grief. Post continues below. 

Video via The Project

By the time Brandis turned 20 in 1996, SeaQuest's initial success had stalled and the TV show was cancelled halfway through season three.

As he grew from a teenage heartthrob into a young man, Brandis struggled to find substantial roles and after allegedly dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, he died by suicide in 2003. 

He was just 27 years old.

Reflecting in 2021 after the release of her nostalgic documentary Kid90, fellow 90s teen star Soleil Moon Frye spoke to People magazine about their friendship.


"I found so many voicemails Jonathan left me when we were kids," Frye, 46, said, reflecting on how she went through old videos and diaries as part of her research for the documentary. 

"Some of them were 10 minutes long, his innermost thoughts. It just made me cry listening to them. He was a real friend."

As part of the same young actors Hollywood circle in the 1990s, Frye said she felt guilt at not realising how Brandis was struggling.

"How often do we really look at each other and go, 'How are you?' and actually hear what someone is saying? I learned that I just wasn't listening in the way I do now."

Jonathan Brandis as Bastian Bux. Image: Getty.


Brandis started acting in 1982 when he was six years old with a role in US soap opera One Life To Live.

He was the only child of Greg and Mary Brandis who encouraged their young son to try modelling and commercial work before their big move to LA when he was just nine years old.

After a string of roles on popular TV shows of the era such as The Wonder Years and Who's The Boss, Brandis won his first big role as Bastian Bux in The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter. 

It led to a role in Steven King's TV adaptation of his horror classic, IT, followed by two lead roles in comedy films Sidekicks with Chuck Norris and Ladybugs with Rodney Dangerfield. 

In 1995, Brandis began dating Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali. In a 1996 interview with People, Brandis is quoted as saying, "I love her tremendously." The couple split in 1998 after three years together.

At the height of his fame, Brandis reportedly commanded a level of fame usually reserved for rock stars.

"He became an instant heartthrob, receiving thousands of fan letters and causing levels of public pandemonium that neared Beatlemania," an article in Rolling Stone states.


According to a story in OC Weekly: "Three security guards had to escort him through the screaming girls who staked out the SeaQuest set at Universal Studios in Orlando and the editor of Tiger Beat put him on the cover of eight out of 12 issues."

Brandis with his fan mail. Image: Getty.

"I never perceived myself like this – a teen magazine kid," Brandis said. "As an actor, you just hope to continue working."


Sadly for Brandis, the roles dried up. In 2002, he was hopeful of a comeback in Hart's War – a blockbuster starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell – but nearly all of his scenes were cut, which according to OC Weekly, left him "depressed".

Brandis was found dead a year after the release of Hart's War in his Los Angeles apartment on November 11, 2003. He was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, but died in hospital the following day.

While ex-girlfriend Tatyana Ali has never publicly commented about his tragic death, she did wonder aloud during an interview whether his meteoric rise to fame and subsequent fall was to blame.

"When you've been on covers of magazines for years, when that stops happening, what's your identity?" Ali reportedly said. 

The actor's father, Greg Brandis, has since speculated that his "very smart, polite, and always easygoing son" may have suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness. 

"In a sad way, he was probably bipolar," Greg told People.

"[His death] wasn't due to the entertainment industry. I look back now, and in his 20s, he showed signs of manic depression. I hope that anyone suffering can go get help."

Brandis and Tatyana Ali. Image: Getty.


"I talk to him and it makes me smile," Greg said of how he keeps Jonathan's memory alive.

"I get the feeling he's looking down at me."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue at 1300 22 4636.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Getty.