I consider myself to be an ’80s/’90s baby, and like most folks around my age group, I lived for Saved by the Bell when I was a kid. Just about every Saturday, I had to see what the Bayside High School gang was up to. Once the show went into syndication, I watched it almost every afternoon. By the time I turned 18, I realized how cheesy Saved by the Bell actually was, but I still watched it every morning before class just for nostalgia’s sake. Besides, I needed all the laughs and fuzzy feelings I could get during my nightmarish Freshman year of college. Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Kelly (Tiffani Amber-Thiessen) were always my favorite characters, but I adored the entire cast, including Dustin Diamond, who played lovable geek Screech.
Every kid on Saved by the Bell had a role to play: Zack was the cool con-artist, Slater (Mario Lopez) was the hot jock, Kelly was the sweet cheerleader, Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley) was the brainiac, Lisa (Lark Voorhies) was the epitome of style, and Screech was the geeky comic relief. No one else could’ve played Screech like Dustin Diamond did. His antics always caused me to buckle over in laughter. Plus, Screech had a crush on Lisa the majority of the show’s run, and anyone that can show a young black woman appreciation is okay in my book. 👍🏽
Dustin went on to play Screech for approximately 11 years. Although I was never a big fan of Saved by the Bell: The College Years, at the very least I could still rely on Dustin to make me laugh as Screech. Sometimes I’d catch a scene or two of Dustin playing Screech on Saved by the Bell: The New Class in the late ’90s, but that reboot didn’t appeal to me at all, so I never took the time to watch it.
Unfortunately, playing Screech turned out to be a blessing and a curse for Dustin. His past role on Saved by the Bell remained in ’90s kids’ hearts, but it prevented him from finding any substantial work. By the early to mid 2000s, Dustin had to file for bankruptcy and was in danger of having his house in foreclosure.
Dustin did some stand-up comedy, made a few appearances in professional wrestling, and released a porno film entitled Screeeched! aka Saved by the Smell. If you’re curious about what happened in the movie, Google it. I’m not getting into it. Dustin later starred in reality TV shows, namely Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Fit Club. I watched both of Dustin’s seasons on Celebrity Fit Club, and not to speak ill of the man, but his attitude was jacked up back then. I mean, it was really jacked up.
Dustin worked my last nerve while he was on that show. Not only was he rude and disrespectful to the judges and his fellow contestants, but he also cheated to reach his target weight by taking diet pills! Then to add insult to injury, he ended up on the winning team both seasons, despite doing little to nothing to earn the victory! Grrr!
However, circa 2015, Dustin went on a radio show and revealed that VH1 paid him extra to be the Celebrity Fit Club antagonist (apparently, he also had to gain 30 lbs. to be on the show). Some people believe that Dustin’s lying about that, but I can’t completely discredit it seeing as all VH1’s bachelor/bachelorette type shows (i.e.: Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, I Love New York, etc.) were all scripted and the person “looking for love” always had a real significant other hidden away somewhere. In all honesty, as much as Dustin worked my nerves on Celebrity Fit Club, his villainy made the seasons more interesting. Like he said during the interview, “What’s Star Wars without Darth Vader?”
Dustin continued to play up the villain angle with his tell-all book, Behind the Bell, which put all his Saved by the Bell co-stars on blast. The book was chock full of allegations, some of which included Mario Lopez committing sexual assault, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen hookin’ up with more than one guy on set at a time, and the cast isolating Dustin. Sometime in 2013, Dustin blasted the book as well as his porn film, stating that they were some of the most embarrassing moments of his life. Supposedly, the book was ghostwritten and released without being properly edited or having the content approved by Dustin himself.
Dustin had a run-in with the law in 2015, after he stabbed a man during a bar fight. He was convicted of a misdemeanor and received four months in jail and 15 months probation. By 2016, Dustin did an interview on Extra with his former co-star, Mario Lopez, and he appeared to be willing to make peace with his Saved by the Bell castmates and regretful for things that happened in the past.
Judging from Dustin’s last few interviews, it looked like he was trying to turn his life around and make up for his previous missteps. Sadly, he was diagnosed with small-cell lung carcinoma in January 2021 and succumbed to the disease by Feb. 1. He was 44.
I sincerely hope he found peace.
Dustin Neil Diamond: January 7, 1977 – February 1, 2021
—Written by Nadiya