The most memorable line from “Saved by the Bell” — “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so … scared!” — was famously said by Elizabeth Berkley Lauren’s Jessie.
The funniest line from the ‘90s TV series, though, came courtesy of Dustin Diamond’s Screech.
“Screech, you can’t elope,” Mr. Belding, duped into thinking he and Kelly are getting married, tells him.
“Who are you calling a cantaloupe, you melon head,” an impassioned Screech fires back, drawing legitimate big laughter from the audience.
It is a corny joke, told in the most ideal forum — a corny teen comedy that, for reasons too numerous to document here, continues to thrive.
Diamond was the outlier of the show, playing the eccentric and nerdy Screech, who somehow hung out with the most popular kids at fictional Bayside High, despite the fact he possessed the social graces of a bull in a china shop.
Diamond proved to be the outlier among the cast in real life, too. His post-“Screech” existence was filled with the kinds of headlines all too often associated with former child stars: bankruptcy, trouble with the law, a sex tape, stints on gimmicky reality shows and a tell-all book about “Saved by the Bell” that was not well received. He was noticeably not included in the comedy’s reboot last year.
His credibility and star power dimmed with each passing year after he stopped playing Screech around the turn of the century. A stand-up comedian, he found himself the subject of punchlines instead of the man delivering them. He was a cautionary tale and a reminder that no one is perfect. We are all flawed. The fact that his troubles played out in such a public manner is yet another indication that fame comes with a dark side. His missteps were magnified at a time when tabloid culture scrutinizes a celebrity’s every move.
“We are aware that Dustin is not considered reputable by most,” spokesman Roger Paul said in a statement about his death.
“He’s had a history of mishaps, of unfortunate events. We want the public to understand that he was not intentionally malevolent. He — much like the rest of those who act out and behave poorly — had undergone a great deal of turmoil and heartache. His actions, though rebukeable, stemmed from loss and the lack of knowledge on how to process that pain properly."
When fellow ‘90s star Luke Perry died in 2019, it reverberated among a fanbase that loved him and had to come to grips with its own mortality. What does Diamond’s death tell us? Is it something so profound? It's hard to say. He was younger than Perry, a young man who should have had many years left to tell his story. It is safe to say a part of our youth died along with Diamond.
Everyone’s life is a diorama of twists and turns and obstacles and we don’t know how we will react to the challenges that come our way. We tuned in to watch Diamond on “Saved by the Bell” and then tuned in to shake our heads when we heard about his latest gaffe, but, in the end, he was no better or worse than anybody else.
It’s easy to remember Diamond for all his troubles, but it’s not fair to define him that way. We are more than how other people see us. Let’s instead remember that he had the good fortune to be part of something that meant so much to so many. And he sure could deliver a heck of a joke, too.