By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 01, 2021 at 4:16 PM

"Saved By the Bell" star, reality show and tabloid figure, and peculiar part of Wisconsin culture Dustin Diamond passed away Monday morning due to stage 4 lung cancer, as first reported by TMZ. He was 44 years old. 

Diamond was first hospitalized in Florida almost three weeks ago, eventually diagnosed with cancer in mid-January. 

“He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago,” Diamond's agent Roger Paul told Rolling Stone in a statement. “In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful."

“Dustin Diamond was a character in and of himself: an unpredictable spitfire who always left us shocked, but never left us bored,” Paul added. “We please ask that you give room for privacy to our team and Mr. Diamond’s family during this tragic time, as we grieve and remember the memories spent together. This loss is as much stinging as it is sudden.”

Diamond blew up in popularity in the late '80s with his famous role as the dweeby but sincere comic relief Screech on the teen sitcoms "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" and, its more popular evolution, "Saved By the Bell." The dorky, big-hearted and often mischievious character became the show's comedic breakout, catapulting Diamond to fame.

Unfortunately, after the show's run, Diamond battled with breaking free of Screech's shadow, reprising his role in the sitcom's spinoffs throughout the '90s and struggling to find work outside of playing or parodying himself in the 2000s in movies, television and reality programs like "Celebrity Boxing," "Celebrity Fit Club" and "Celebrity Big Brother" in the UK. He became one of many sad child star cautionary tales from the era, about the cold cruelty of the industry, the struggle of finding and maintaining a normal life and career after spending so many formative years in the spotlight, and the desperate, sadly punchline-inducing lengths taken when that spotlight was gone – which, in Diamond's case, beyond the reality show apperances, included an infamous sex tape and tell-all book as well as multiple legal woes over the years, most notably a four-month prison sentence in 2015 for a stabbing incident at a bar on Christmas.

Diamond oddly found his way into Wisconsin mythos in the latter parts of his life and career after moving from California to Port Washington in 2002 for "a change of scenery," according to a 2018 interview with the Green Bay Press Gazette

"I played bass at the time, and I was recording an album," Diamond told the paper. "I was young, in my early 20s. A good buddy of mine came out and said, 'Hey, I live in Wisconsin. Why don’t we arrange something out there?' We spent four months out here in a studio recording for the album. I have to say, during that four-month period, I just fell in love with it. I liked the vibe. I liked the people. I liked the whole general feel … It was like Pleasantville. Clean, open, fresh air.  I just felt the love and the vibe from the people."

The change in location didn't keep Diamond out of trouble – the bar incident, and a parole violation in May of 2016, took place in Ozaukee County – but it did turn him into a local legend of sorts, often hosting shows and events around the state as well as appearing in the locally-made music videos and the absurdist indie comedy "Hamlet A.D.D."

Diamond leaves behind a sad Hollywood story, but also a legacy of providing laughs to a whole generation growing up. The latter is almost certainly what he'd wish to be remembered for. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.