Les Miserables star Kyle Jean-Baptiste dies in fire escape fall

Actor was first African-American, and also the youngest to play lead role of Jean Valjean

Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the first African-American actor to play the lead role of Jean Valjean in the popular Broadway musical "Les Misérables," died on Friday after falling from a fire escape in Brooklyn.

He was 21.

Jean-Baptiste was an ensemble performer and an understudy for the role of Valjean, said Marc Thibodeau, a spokesman for the production.

In addition to being the first African-American actor to play the role, he was also the youngest.


“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,” said the production in a statement posted to its Facebook page.

The police said that Jean-Baptiste’s death “appeared to be accidental.” They said he fell from the fourth-floor fire escape of an apartment.

Jean-Baptiste was sitting on the fire escape with a 23-year-old female friend, the police said, when he stood up, slipped and fell backward to the street below. His death was mourned by friends, family and Broadway luminaries.

Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth sent Twitter messages offering their condolences to his family and the musical's cast. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer of the Broadway musical "Hamilton," expressed his dismay at the news, writing on Twitter, "Unimaginable. In shock. He was just in here."

Mr Miranda also shared a link to a YouTube video of himself and Jean-Baptiste performing a number from "Les Misérables" two weeks ago on the sidewalk in front of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where "Hamilton" is running.

"The tragic loss of Kyle to our company, just as he was on the threshold of a brilliant career, is a numbing reminder of how precious life is," said Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of Les Misérables, in a statement.

“His spirit was infinite and his voice from God - we are all so sad not to have spent more time with him, for he truly was a rare talent and a special person.”

Ramin Karimloo, an actor who regularly plays the role of Valjean in the Broadway production, described Jean-Baptiste as a rising star, a charismatic and talented performer with "a zest for life and the industry."

Jean-Baptiste was a friend and “a workout buddy,” Karimloo said.

“He had a lot of ambition and the confidence to achieve those ambitions,” said Karimloo. “He would have been something, that’s for sure. He would have definitely made an impact on this industry. When I heard him sing, his voice was ridiculous for a guy his age.”

Jean-Baptiste joined the company of “Les Misérables” on June 23rd and took the stage as Valjean one month later, Mr Thibodeau said. The day after his first performance, Jean-Baptiste wrote on Twitter that it had been one of the best nights of his life.

He performed the role “several times” before his final performance Thursday evening, Mr Thibodeau said. He was scheduled to leave the show Sept. 6 to join the Broadway production of “The Colour Purple.”

Jean-Baptiste celebrated his final performance as Valjean in a message posted to Twitter on Tuesday morning. “Thursday is my last Valjean on Broadway,” he wrote.

“The ability to play this part on Broadway has been life changing.”