Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the first African-American to play Jean Valjean, the iconic lead role in Broadway musical Les Misérables, died on Friday after falling from the fourth-floor fire escape of an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He was 21 years old.
According to the New York Times, police said that the young man’s death “appeared to be accidental.” He was sitting on the fire escape with a 23-year-old female friend when he stood up, slipped, and fell.
Marc Thibodeau, a spokesman for the Broadway production, said Jean Baptiste had joined the company as an ensemble performer and understudy for the role on June 23, the Times reports. He assumed the role a month later, performing “several times” before his final performance this past Thursday, Thibodeau said.
“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,” the production said in a statement posted to Facebook. “We send our deepest condolences to his family and ask that you respect their privacy in this unimaginably difficult time.”
In addition to being the first black actor to play Valjean, Jean-Baptiste, who grew up in Brooklyn, was also the youngest, BroadwayWorld.com reports. He was scheduled to join the Broadway production of The Color Purple in September.