Rickey Smiley Shares His Grieving Process After Son’s Overdose


Dish Nation’s Rickey Smiley, 55, experienced a heart-wrenching loss last year when his son Brandon died last year. The 32-year-old died from fentanyl and ethanol toxicity in January 2023. It has been over a year since Brandon’s passing, and Smiley spoke to PEOPLE magazine about his grieving process.  

“When you come up on the one year, it is almost like it’s happening all over again because you’re triggered,” he told PEOPLE during the interview. “I was walking through my home like something was going to happen to my son all over again. It was just horrible. My anxiety was completely through the roof.” 

“It was almost like a countdown to the 29th, the day he died,” the comedian added. 

While this is Smiley’s first time losing a child, it isn’t his first time losing a family member to a drug overdose. When he was young, his father also died from an overdose. That said, Smiley expressed that losing his child is incomparable to anything he’s experienced. 

“It’s your 32-year-old son that died, but man, you start thinking about your 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12-year-old son. You’re thinking about the birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese, you’re thinking about the kid that slept in the bed with you, that you helped get dressed and brush his teeth,” he explained. “That’s your child. I felt it from top to bottom, inside to outside.” 

Smiley continued, “I feel like I had died. It literally felt like a part of me died. It was depressing, anxiety, sadness. Nothing I ever felt before, and sometimes it makes you feel like you wished you were dead also because the pain is unbearable.”

The radio host shared the news of his son’s passing via Instagram and has since done multiple interviews speaking out about addiction and shed light on the issue via his platforms, too. He has also shared that he’s been finding comfort in Brandon’s daughter Storm since his passing. Smiley has also been in therapy twice a week to help him cope with the grief. 

“My therapist told me that everything that I’m dealing with is starting to settle. The depth is still there. What happened still happened, but it gets to a point where it starts to subside and you’re getting used to this new normal,” he explained. 

Despite it being a year since his son’s passing, support is still critical as you don’t just ‘get over’ a loved one dying. Luckily, the comedian has high school friends and three close relatives who are still helping him through the grief. 

“Even when the calls stopped coming in, when the flowers have withered, when everything is over and people are going on with their life, it’s certain people that will still connect with you and just always have you in mind,” he said.

Smiley explained how he still has difficult moments despite life continuing and him seeming ok to the public.

“People hear you on the radio and they see you performing and they think that you’re okay, but they never see you crying to the side of the stage. To tell jokes, the total opposite of what you’re feeling inside, that’s hard,” he said. “They were there for me in my roughest time. It has been so important.”

The Network/Syndicated Personality of the Year award winner is still intentional about keeping his son’s legacy alive. He does so by watching funny videos of Brandon over the years. 

“I just look at it and laugh and it sort of keeps him alive, but it doesn’t send me to a dark place. I just kind of smile and laugh as if he’s still living,” the comedian adds.

Additionally, the Dish Nation talent is pouring his grief and learnings into his upcoming book Sideshow: Living with Loss and Moving Forward with Faith. The book is about how he’s navigating this monumental loss from a Christian perspective.  

“I just remember days that I would write and the next day, I would just release and cry. I’ve learned through therapy to sit in my feelings and not try to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to go to work.’ Because one thing I know about grief… grief is like, ‘I’m going to wait for you until you get back. When you get done working, I’m going to be right here waiting on you.’ You can’t control it. When it comes, it comes.” 

The new book is set to be released on September 17, 2024.

“It’ll be a great inspiration piece for those that have also suffered a loss,” he said of the upcoming book. “So I just hope that the book gives somebody some comfort and some encouraging words.”

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