It’s a death sentence so sudden we can’t even imagine what it must be like.
Dustin Diamond was diagnosed with stage four small-cell lung carcinoma earlier in January, and just three weeks later he was gone.
While millions of Saved by the Bell fans are in mourning, obviously his inner circle was hit first and hardest. Now his closest friends are letting viewers in on the pain and beauty of his final moments.
Speaking to DailyMail.com, Dustin’s girlfriend of about a year, Tash, opened up about how crushed she was:
“He was the love of my life. We planned on a future together and spoke often about having kids. I’m heartbroken.”
Aw. The pharmacy technician had been visiting him in the hospital — along with his pet mini-Yorkie named Fin, whom she had to smuggle in. She spoke to him one last time, the day before his death, revealing:
“Even though he was struggling to breathe and had difficulty speaking he was able to get out the words to me, ‘I love you,’ I told him I loved him back.”
Wow. Just devastating.
But Dustin didn’t die in the hospital. Tash revealed:
“Dustin died at our friend Jules’ house in the Fort Meyers, Florida area.”
After several days, he had been released from the hospital to a close friend named Jules‘ house (he had been staying there as his house with Tash was in the middle of being remodeled) to receive hospice care. But he had barely gotten in the door — he was still on the gurney — when he was discovered to have stopped breathing.
Tash had only just arrived as well, following behind the vehicle transporting her boyfriend. But even that was a bit too late:
“After I got out of our car I went into the house to be with Dustin. That was when I discovered he wasn’t breathing.”
Dustin’s BFF Dan Block was shocked at how fast everything happened. He had just spoken with the former child star before his weekend hospitalization:
“I spoke with Dustin the night before, Thursday, he told me he was in a lot of pain and the meds he was taking weren’t working. But he was excited to see his father who was flying out from California to see him the next morning.”
Block’s memories of that weekend are maybe the best record we have of Dustin’s final days. He recalled:
“Last Friday and Saturday he was able to talk and by Sunday he was having real problems breathing and barely speaking. He was able to say a few things on Sunday, and was able to ask for a smoothie. But he was in pain. He got really bad by Sunday evening. By Monday you could tell he was in pain, I think he was suffering, by the way he was breathing.”
So hard to think about…
Block also shared that another pal — and fellow troubled child star — Todd Bridges was one of the last people to speak to Dustin:
“Another good friend of his, actor Todd Bridges, called me around 12.30pm and asked if I could put Dustin on the phone. I told Todd, Dustin couldn’t speak but I’d put his call on the speaker so Dustin could listen to Todd. Todd told Dustin, ‘Hey man, love you brother, see you again one day soon.’ I’m not sure if Dustin was coherent at this time, his eyes were moving around and his eyebrows were moving up and done [sic].”
Oof. Our hearts.
Block was there in the car with Tash, going to see Dustin, when the floor was ripped from under them.
“We aren’t really sure when Dustin actually died, if he died at Jules’ house or if he died en route after leaving the hospital… After Tash and I arrived at Jules’ house, Tash went inside to say hi and to let him know she was there. Instead, I heard Tash, say, ‘I don’t think he’s breathing.’ This was about 1.15pm. We called 911 and the police came. Dustin was pronounced dead at the house, he had a DNR [do not resuscitate order]. It was terrible… we were all crying that he was gone. We knew he was suffering and now he wasn’t.”
Block also remembers the first time he learned of Dustin’s illness. His friend called him and said, “Dude, I think I’m sick”:
“He said it was more than a pain in the neck.”
It was more than pain. The actor we knew as Screech had a huge growth on his neck:
“Dustin told me the lump was on the left side of his neck right underneath the jawbone neck area. He sent me a picture of it and it was the size of a golf ball. He told me that Tash wanted him to go to the doctor to have it checked out.”
In a truly heartbreaking twist, it was Dustin’s fame that kept him from getting the lump diagnosed sooner:
“He also confessed to me that he first noticed the lump in his jawbone neck area around mid-summer but resisted to go to the hospital for fear of being recognized and people making fun of him.”
Oh no. That was MONTHS. He could have gotten it seen MONTHS earlier. Of course we now all know what he was told when he finally went. Block shared:
“Dustin told me the cancer started in his spine and he had lesions on it and then it spread to other parts of his body. He started his chemo treatment the first week of January, it was then he was given his prognosis, that he had anywhere from five months to a year to live.”
They told him five months, and he only had three weeks?? Oh no, that’s so much worse.
“Dustin was scared, he called me often crying, telling me he didn’t want to die. He was in a lot of pain. One time on the phone he told me, ‘Find me a new body, I don’t want to die.’”
Dustin got chemo right away, but as it turns out that was another huge hurdle for him due to a painful personal memory:
“He also feared having to undergo chemotherapy; his mother died of breast cancer and he saw what chemo did to her.”
Maybe not having to go through that long, drawn out suffering of treatment was better for him in the long run? It’s impossible to say really. How can you go back and choose a different death? Dustin did tell Block about his desire to go back and live a different life:
“One day I asked Dustin if he had any regrets or anything he would like to do over. He told me ‘everything.’ Being Screech was both a blessing and a curse. Because of his fame, if he did anything wrong, the entire world would know. If he as just a normal person, only his family and a few friends would know and care. He didn’t want to be known as Screech, it irritated him when someone called him Screech. He just wanted to be normal guy.”
Tash confirmed Dustin’s wish to be “normal,” saying:
“He was recognized everywhere we went but he would have preferred to be just a normal person.”
Dustin’s fame almost kept him from meeting her. She explained:
“We met on Facebook in June, we had mutual friends. One day I received a message from him, something like ”hello, how are you?” I didn’t think it was him but thought he may have been a troll, so I decided to play along. I wasn’t sure I was talking to the real Dustin Diamond until I actually met him in person and we just clicked.”
Even when they began dating the fame was still in the way:
“When we first started dating I told him I didn’t want to be in any limelight, that is why up until now not many people knew he was living with me.”
Tash revealed how the shocking cancer news derailed their plans:
“We never discussed marriage, but did talk about children in our future… Once we had the diagnosis, when he knew he was going to die, we talked about what he wanted. He didn’t want the big farewell, he wanted to go in peace.”
Block confirmed that’s how Dustin wanted his passing to be marked — no big farewell, just an intimate moment with those he loved most:
“Dustin didn’t want a gravestone or a memorial service, he is going to be cremated in the next week and his remains are going to be split among Tash and his father, Mark.”
In her final sentiments about Dustin, Tash tried to express what kind of man he was — not as a celebrity but as a person:
“You had to experience Dustin as a human being, you can’t describe him. He was pure fun, I laughed more with him in these few short months that I have in my entire life.”
If she had to sum him up with one sentiment?
“He had the biggest heart.”
We are so sad to just be seeing this side of Dustin when it’s too late.