CHICAGO, Ill. (NBC News) — “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was assaulted in Chicago on Tuesday by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck in an attack police are investigating as a hate crime, officials said.
Smollett, 36, had just landed in town from New York and was out getting a bite to eat at about 2 a.m. CT (3 a.m. ET) on East North Lower Water Street when two men attacked him, the actor told police.
Two “unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to a statement from the Chicago Police Department. “The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim.”
The chemical is believed to be bleach, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
“At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck,” the statement continued. “The offenders fled the scene.”
Smollett, who is black and gay, took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for treatment. The extent of his injuries was not immediately known.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. “Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline. The victim is fully cooperating.”
Twentieth Century Fox Television issued a statement in support of the actor.
“We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our EMPIRE family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night,” according to a company statement.
“We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own.”
Friends and co-workers of Smollett’s in addition to gay-rights advocates also spoke out about the attack.
“DEAR GOD! Prayers and justice for Jussie Smollett,” tweeted actress Kerry Washington.
Actor, writer and “Empire” producer Danny Strong said in a tweet addressed to Smollett’s attackers, “do not forget that you are nothing but hate filled cowards while Jussie’s talent and activism will continue to shine a bright light on to the world for decades to come.”
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said in a statement: “GLAAD reached out to FOX and Jussie’s team today to offer assistance as well as support for him. Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world.”
On “Empire,” Smollett plays Jamal Lyon, the estranged son of his music-industry titan father played by Terrence Howard. Jamal is a gay singer-songwriter and his sexual orientation and career independence has him at odds with the family patriarch.
Smollett came out as gay to Out Magazine in 2016, a few months after “Empire” first aired on Fox.
Smollett appeared on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton” on Sunday to discuss the future of historically black colleges and universities. The actor has been active in fundraising efforts to save Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina.