Actor and singer Jussie Smollett has been hospitalized in Chicago after being attacked early Tuesday in what authorities said may have been a hate crime.
The victim, who Chicago police identified as the 36-year-old man who stars on "Empire," was leaving a restaurant about 2 a.m. when he was approached by two unknown men yelling racial and homophobic slurs, police say.
After gaining Smollett’s attention, the men punched him and poured an unknown chemical substance on him, police say. At one point during the attack, one of the suspects wrapped a rope around Smollett’s neck, according to police.
The suspects fled the scene and Smollett brought himself to a hospital. He was in good condition and fully cooperating with the investigation Tuesday, police say.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” Chicago police said in a statement.
Before the attack began, one of the suspects yelled “Aren’t you that f****** ‘Empire’ n*****?” TMZ reported.
Both suspects were white and wearing ski masks, according to TMZ.
The website reported that the chemical poured on Smollett was bleach and that one of the men yelled “This is MAGA country,” referencing President Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make American Great Again.”
Smollett had traveled to Chicago from New York and appeared to be relieved to have finally finished what had become a long day of travelling, according to a social media post.
"#Mood after spending 7 hours on a plane for a 2 hour flight but finally landing all good. Love y’all. Goodnight," he wrote on Instagram.
On the Fox show "Empire," Smollett plays musician Jamal Lyon, the son of Terrence Howard’s Lucious and Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie. The character is gay. Smollett said during a 2015 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that he is gay, but prefers to keep his personal life private.
“There is no closet, there’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said. “So that’s why I choose not to talk about my personal life. But there is without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear, but it was most important for me to make that clear to you on your show at this time in the world. And that’s where I’m at.”
He again spoke about being himself during an interview with Attitude magazine in August 2016.
"I get tired of the idea of someone telling me what my truth is," Smollett said. "I've said from the beginning of my journey: I do not hide who I am. I love who I love.
“No one is going to tell me that somehow that is going to be my disability,” he said. “I am told so many times that I should not walk truly in my blackness. That I should not walk truly in my sexuality, I should not walk truly in who I am.
“I say thanks but no thanks, f*** you and goodbye,” he continued. “I honestly think that me being myself has actually helped my career move forward."
GLAAD said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter that it reached out to Fox and to Smollett’s team to offer any help needed.
“Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world,” the statement said.
As word of Tuesday’s attack spread, friends and costars took to social media to offer Smollett their support and condemn his attackers.
“I'm just now hearing the news about the senseless hate attack on my #EMPiRE Nephew @JussieSmollett,” wrote Vivica A. Fox. “IM SO ANGRY AND HURT ABOUT THIS! THIS MUST STOP!! SPREAD LOVE NOT HATE! PRAYERS UP TO U NEPHEW!”
“I can’t believe this happened,” tweeted CNN contributor Ana Navarro, who wrote she saw Smollett last week. “It is sad and disgusting and deplorable.”
“This is so awful,” actor Billy Eichner wrote. “Sending love to @JussieSmollett.”
Detectives with the Chicago police are working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline, officials said.
Anyone with information about this incident to contact Area Central Detectives at 312-747-8382, or report it anonymously to www.cpdtip.com.