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Regina King talks about her son’s death: ‘Grief is love with no place to go’

Actor Regina King's only child, Ian Alexander Jr., died in January 2022, just days after his 26th birthday.
/ Source: TODAY

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

Regina King and Jimmy Kimmel shared a vulnerable moment when the actor appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" for the first time since the death of her son, Ian Alexander Jr.

After King took a seat and greeted the audience on the March 21 episode, Kimmel choked up when asking King a heartfelt “how are you doing right now,” a seeming reference to King's son who died by suicide in 2022.

"Right now, I'm good," King said.

"Good. I'm glad to hear that. I know you've been thought a lot the last year," Kimmel said as his voice cracked, seemingly fighting back tears.

King then reached out to touch his hand and reiterated how good it was to see him. He returned the gesture, appearing to hold back some emotion as he launched into the interview.

Since her son's passing in 2022, King has been opening up about his death.

The “Shirley” star, 53, told Harper’s Bazaar on March 18 that Alexander, who died days after his 26th birthday, often put on a happy face for those around him despite his depression.

A smile doesn’t always mean happy. He would never not let whoever he was with feel like they were the most special person in the world.

regina king to Harper's Bazaar

“When I look at all of the work and everything that we and Ian put into trying to move through the depression … I mean, he’s pure joy and pure light,” said King, using the present tense about her son. “But he was struggling so much.

"We knew. We knew what we were going through, but he never presented that way," she continued. "That’s why I know that a smile doesn’t always mean happy. He would never not let whoever he was with feel like they were the most special person in the world.

Regina King and Ian Alexander Jr.
Regina King with her son, Ian Alexander Jr., in November 2019.Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

She added, "So for me, I’m like, ‘Man, he was putting a lot into things, a lot into people, a lot into this world, and yet it wasn’t translating back.'"

The Oscar winner shared Alexander, who was her only child, with her ex-husband, music producer Ian Alexander Sr.

King told the publication that if she had the chance, she'd relive her life with Alexander all over again exactly the way it was.

"If I was told, ‘Do you want to do this again, but it’s going to be exactly the same?’ I would say yeah, just because of how much Ian gives me,” she said. “But right now, it is me trying to better understand this new relationship with Ian that the universe has chosen.

"We always talk about spirit: They’re always with us in spirit. But his physical absence is so loud that it’s hard to sometimes tap into that spiritual connection," she added.

Regina King and son Ian Alexander Jr.
King with her son in 2005.Gregg DeGuire / WireImage

King, who was 25 when her son was born, has spoken over the years about how motherhood impacted her career. When he was a child, King chose TV work over film roles because of the predictable schedules.

She later picked roles in movies she believed would resonate with her son, including Barry Jenkins’ 2018 drama “If Beale Street Could Talk.” King won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as a fiercely loyal mom.

She also had Alexander in mind when she chose her feature directorial debut to be the 2020 drama “One Night in Miami … ," a fictional account of a 1964 meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke.

"One of the things I’ve learned on this journey is that gratitude and sadness are not mutually exclusive; they’re always working at the same time,” King said about the mourning process.

“I just have to navigate this," she added. "Sometimes it’s minute by minute."

Though she was blindsided by her son's suicide, King has found comfort in speaking to other moms of children who have died.

"Having those women in my life reminding me of the importance of not isolating— because it’s really easy to isolate, especially when the majority of people in the world have no idea whatsoever of this level of grief. But talking to women who are like, ‘It’s not going to go away,'" she said.

She added, “I read somewhere that grief is love with no place to go, and I was like, ‘Huh … yeah … that does sum it up in some way.’ "