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Comedian Rickey Smiley in first interview since son’s death: ‘You can never be prepared’

"If anything makes me cry, it’s God’s goodness to be able to get out of the bed..."

In the wake of his son's untimely death, comedian Rickey Smiley said he is "praying his way through" and leaning on his spirituality.

On Thursday, March 2, Smiley was live in Studio 1A to give his first interview since his son, 32-year-old Brandon Smiley, died on Jan. 29, 2023.

"You get the call that no parent wants to get — that your child has passed away," TODAY 3rd Hour co-host Craig Melvin said. "What happened, Rick?"

"I was in Dallas in my apartment getting ready to watch the playoff and his girlfriend called," Smiley explained. "She said that, in her words, that he had OD'd."

As Smiley rushed to make a 12 o'clock flight, he shared that he received a second phone call from Brandon's younger sister, Taylor.

"I got a phone call on my way out the door ... that he had passed," he added. "She was crying. And uh, yeah."

Smiley said that the family has not received a toxicology report and an official cause of death is pending. Foul play or trauma are not suspected to have played a role in his death

"This is just what we're speculating according to his girlfriend, who found him unresponsive," he said.

The father of four shared that Brandon had a history of drug use.

"He was struggling with that," Smiley said. "His mother and I made several attempts to try to send him to get the help that he needed — send him to rehab. We thought that he as doing better — he had just joined the church and he had just gotten baptized again probably a month before he passed away."

"He used, and it killed him," Smiley said.

In the wake of his grief, Smiley said that his goal is to speak openly about the issues surrounding drug addiction in the United States.

From 2019 to 2020, the rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 30%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For Black Americans, the death rate increased by 44%.

"We just assume that if you're in a good school district or you're in a gated community or everything is going good that these kids are not doing drugs," Smiley said. "You don't have to be in the hood to succumb to drug abuse."

Smiley shared that he doesn't "know why" or "know how" his son ended up battling drug addiction, adding that both Brandon's mother, Brenda, and Smiley "are all clean and sober."

"I don't know," he added. "I hate it."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists and medical professions have not identified "a single factor" that determines whether or not "a person will become addicted to drugs."

Some risk factors, however, include aggressive behavior in childhood, community poverty, lack of parental supervision, and biological risk factors, including genes, stage of development and mental health disorders.

Smiley also took the time to share what his son was like in life.

"Fun. Funny. Always the leader, always the prankster," he said of his son. "He was a great kid — he came to live with me at the end of his 8th grade year. I wanted to have the opportunity to see him into his manhood."

Smiley said Brandon also started doing stand-up comedy, following in his father's entertainment footsteps.

"I had him on stage when he was 7 years old. He wanted to perform," he shared. "He was just a great kid ... a lot of fun."

Despite being "shocked" by his son's death, Smiley said he was "not surprised."

"Deep inside, I was kind of prepared for it, but at the same time when it happens you can never be prepared because that's your child," he said, adding that God had "kind of gave me a sense ... I understand what's out there."

"The God that we serve is just awesome — He has given me peace that surpasses all understanding," he added. "If anything makes me cry, it's God's goodness to be able to get out of the bed, to be able to do my morning show, to be able to protect my kids, my grandkids and the rest of my family. So, I just thank God for His grace and His mercy."

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