It's been a hard week for fans of Dustin Diamond, who played the beloved geek Screech on "Saved by the Bell" and died Monday at 44 from carcinoma.
It’s been a hard week for fans of Dustin Diamond, who played the beloved geek Screech on “Saved by the Bell” and died Monday at 44 from carcinoma.
But it’s been especially difficult for Diamond’s friends, like Joey Zak and TomE LaBrosse from the Milwaukee rock band TENLo.
“He taught us to not be afraid of putting yourself on the line,” Zak told the Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, on Wednesday. “That’s what the dude was all about. That will always stay with me.”
Three days after Diamond’s death, TENLo paid its respects by sharing one of his final projects, as the star of their new music video for their song “Running Out of Time.”
Directed by Milwaukee filmmaker Joshua Mendez, it’s an homage to the movie “Back to the Future,” with Diamond happily hamming it up as kooky, time-traveling scientist Doc Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd in the movie).
“He immediately said ‘Hell yes’ and started tossing out ideas,” Zak said about Diamond’s reaction to TENLo’s pitch for the video.
“He was all about being part of the team,” LaBrosse added.
The musicians had teamed up with Diamond before. In 2017, they reached out to his manager about a music video concept for their single “Kill All the Things,” knowing that, like them, Diamond also lived in the Milwaukee area. (The actor moved to Port Washington, Wisconsin, in 2002 at the suggestion of a friend, seeking “a change of pace,” he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 2018. Likening the town to “Pleasantville,” he lived there for nearly two decades.)
Diamond agreed to do TENLo’s video, portraying disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.
“We never expected to hang out with somebody you see and idolize on TV growing up,” Zak said of meeting Diamond for the first time at Milwaukee’s Astor Hotel for the video shoot. “But it felt like he was a long lost friend. … You don’t meet too many people that you connect with on a level like that immediately within the first 10 minutes of talking.”
Diamond, Zak and LaBrosse hit it off so well they became friends, visiting pubs together and rocking out at a Jackyl show at a Harley-Davidson festival.
Diamond was a musician himself, so the trio bonded over bands and gear, LaBrosse said. They were close enough that Zak and LaBrosse would get late-night calls, text messages and videos of the actor goofing around.
“It made you smile, it made you laugh,” Zak said. “The guy was so creative and so quick-witted. He knew what to say to make everything funny. … That is what drew me in.”
After Zak and LaBrosse brainstormed the “Back to the Future” concept for their video for “Running Out of Time,” they wanted to involve Diamond. The video was shot over 12 hours in August 2019 at a warehouse in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the band members’ friend Bob Kerman had a DeLorean, like the one in “Back to the Future.”
“The warehouse was 98 degrees and he had all this makeup on,” LaBrosse said. They would help Diamond between takes, and even scratch his head, which was itchy under a bald cap. “He must have felt miserable, but he didn’t show it.”
In fact, Diamond stayed in costume the full shoot and improvised several silly bits that ended up in the final take.
“It speaks volumes to his dedication and his talent to see how spontaneous he was, that he would not quit working until the day was done,” Zak said.
After the shoot, the video was put on the back burner, so TENLo could make some changes to the song and spend some time finding the right special effects with Mendez. But in light of Diamond’s death, the band decided to release it as a tribute to their friend.
Combined with the theme of the song and and its title, the video is sobering, seeing an actor clearly so full of life, knowing he is no longer with us.
But it also illustrates the kind of goofy comic chops that made Diamond famous, and shows him doing what LaBrosse said he loved to do most: trying to make people laugh.
“Dustin would have wanted us to release it,” Zak said. “He would definitely want people to have one last laugh on his account. The video is one last ride with our buddy Dustin.”