1st African-American Actor to Play Valjean on Broadway Dies | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

1st African-American Actor to Play Valjean on Broadway Dies

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    The first African-American and youngest person to ever play the role of Jean Valjean in the Broadway production of "Les Misérables" has died. He was 21. (Published Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015)

    The first black man and youngest person to ever play the role of Jean Valjean in the Broadway production of "Les Misérables" died early Saturday. He was 21.

    Kyle Jean-Baptiste, 21, fell at about 4 a.m. from a fourth-floor fire escape at an apartment building in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, police said. He was taken to the Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center where he died.

    Jean-Baptiste was sitting on the fire escape with a 23-year-old woman when he stood up, slipped and fell backward to the ground, police said.

    The actor was an ensemble member of the company and an understudy for Valjean, going onstage as the ex-convict in a history-making appearance July 23. He has been the understudy for the role and usually played Constable and Courfeyrac in the production.

    "The entire Les Misérables family is shocked and devastated by the sudden and tragic loss of Kyle, a remarkable young talent and tremendous person who made magic - and history - in his Broadway debut," the company said in a written statement.

    Jean-Baptiste was born in New York and "Les Misérables'' was his Broadway debut, following his graduation from Baldwin Wallace University.

    The Broadway community took to Twitter on Saturday to mourn the loss of a young talent.

    "Shocked and saddened to have lost one of Broadway's youngest treasures," tweeted Tony Award-nominee Joshua Henry. Teal Wicks, starring in "Finding Neverland," called him "a new friend and a shining star."

    Jean-Baptiste was born in New York and graduated from Baldwin Wallace University. After making stage history, he told Playbill: "I did not immediately think of it as making history. This was my dream since I was a little boy. This incredible team of creatives presented an opportunity to play a part I have dreamed of playing since I was introduced to theatre, and I am forever grateful. I felt a huge amount of responsibility to do right by them and to honor this iconic material."

    Ramin Karimloo, who originated the role of Jean Valjean in the musical last year, will give a speech at the curtain call of Saturday's matinee performance.

    In one of his last tweets, sent Tuesday, Jean-Baptiste showed gratitude for his friends and fans: "I thank everyone who supported me and still does. I will never forget this experience. Onwards and upwards. Nothing but love."