(Trigger warning: discussing trauma, depression, "unaliving")
You might ask yourself why it's taken me almost three weeks to write this. Just about all of the content I've seen about the untimely loss of the dear soul depicted above has already almost dried up. Thanks to the power of the media--and the fact that aside from his own personal friends and family, none of us fans really knew the man--the news of his death and the circumstances is already cooling off.
But I haven't really been able to stop thinking about this. He was not just a celebrity. In fact, you could hardly call a actor who never stepped outside his one and only franchise a celebrity. He was not just a cartoon character. He was not just a part of any old franchise, either. And he did not just pass at a tragically untimely age.
I'm not here to see how many reads I can get off of this. I'm not writing this to get top story. I'm not writing this to impress anyone. I expect I'm going to get laughed at, even. Most folks my age stopped thinking about people like Jason David Frank a long time ago, when they hung up their ranger suits and put their morphin' coins away. I certainly did. And I certainly didn't love JDF more than any other celebrity. He's no David Bowie, no Brian Lumley, and probably had no real influence on my adult life.
So why am I still not over this? Why can't I move on?
Who was Jason David Frank and why has the death of this arguably pigeon-holed actor from the 1990s shaken me and an entire generation to its core?
Tommy Oliver And The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers
(Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger, summons the Dragonzord in season 1 of The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers).
Jason David Frank was best known for his role in the 1990s television series, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, based on the popular Japanese franchise, Super Sentai, featuring five (and then six) teenagers capable of stopping a cosmic evil. He did his own stunts in all of his scenes. Frank stayed well past the original 14 episodes he was slated for. In total, Frank played Tommy Oliver in six different versions of the Power Rangers, starring in over 200 hundred episodes and two movies. Tommy first appeared in Season 1 of the show during a 5-part mini-series entitled "Green With Evil". Tommy, a transfer student to Angel Grove High, was kidnapped and brain washed into serving Rita Repulsa as the Green Ranger. Under her control, Tommy, Rita Repulsa, and her minion Goldar nearly destroyed the original 5 Power Rangers. When her spell was broken, Zordon welcomed the prophesized sixth ranger into the fold. Tommy's zord was the Dragonzord and he wielded both the Dragon Flute dagger and prior to his rescue from Rita Repulsa, the Sword Of Darkness (which Lord Zedd would later use against him in season 2 of the show).
Tommy had an extremely long arc as the Green Ranger, resulting in some sumptuous elementary school-aged emotional subplots that endeared Tommy to those with fond memories of the legacy of the original Power Rangers. He would return again and again to aid five more iterations of the Power Rangers, which featured his last appearance as Dr. Tommy Oliver in The Power Rangers: Super Ninja Steel.
Tommy broke hearts the world over with his short-lived arc as the love interest of Pink Ranger Kimberly. I was too busy to notice Tommy, actually. My sister had to come tell me about him and Kim's amour. The drama! We shipped them hard, though. Even my sister, an avid Tommy fan, couldn't resist the idea of her favorite power ranger falling in love with the bad boy.
Tommy was actually very low on my radar as a character early on. My favorite was the Red Ranger, Jason. I was a little the worse for wear after his and Goldar's battle in Episodes 2 and 3 of "Green With Evil". It was a very unfortunate time for me as a fan (then seven years old), as I had to watch my two favorite characters duke it out, hoping Jason wouldn't lose, but also hoping I wasn't about to witness the end of Goldar (I didn't). For the majority of my childhood, I remained enamored of the villains more than the rangers, though I have fond memories of them all, and later had a thing for the moody, broody Merrick of Power Rangers Wild Force (mmmm mmmmm mmmmmmm mmmmm!). But it was Tommy's role as antagonist ranger, brain washed as he was, that put me off of him. I despised him from the moment he came on screen, but like everyone else, eventually forgave him. When Lord Zedd sought to reclaim him, I was miserable. Here I was again trapped between two stellar characters, the Master of the Moon, and the rapidly failing Green Ranger.
I have an identity crisis with each new franchise I encounter.
I didn't keep up with the Power Rangers past the original 5 until Wild Force, but I never stopped loving the franchise, and they heavily influenced my decision to get into anime in high school. Watching some of my favorite animes always reminded me of the first ones I ever encountered, not realizing at the time that Japan and Korea, not the United States, had given me some of my fondest childhood shows.
For Millennials, the Power Rangers marks a pivotal moment in afternoon television history. Like many successful American martial arts and animated fantasy series (Sailor Moon, Pokemon) the Power Rangers were based on an already popular Japanese franchise. The English-language branch-off of Super Sentai's release in the United States reflects the US media's habitual practice of sanitizing Japanese media for US childhood and adolescent audiences. Between VR Troopers and The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, 90s kids had no shortage of masked martial arts heroes, action figures, and toys.
(If you were not as fortunate as we were to own some of these toys, Amazon has a wide selection of figures to remember our favorite character from. Sometimes if you click on links and buy things, I make a little money at no extra cost to you.)
Hardly any child of Elder Millennial age, or even those of Gen Z, have anything bad to say about the franchise, even if they would never have admitted to watching it at the time. For hundreds of thousands the world over, the Power Rangers represent everything we want to believe about justice and protection, and what it means to serve a worthy cause.
Fans the world over describe Jason David Frank as the legendary hero of their childhood, an example of strength and faith in the face of hardship, standing tall against evil no matter what form it took. Representing the ideal figure of masculine beauty, and the shining example of a friend, a partner, and a warrior, he won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of children and young adults, including yours truly and her twin sister. Frank imbued Tommy with his own soul, imparting his firmly held beliefs and Christian sense of righteousness and sacrifice to the character, endearing him so closely to the franchise and to fans that Frank would return time and again to bring the character to life well after his colleagues had moved on.
Frank is not the only character actor from the franchise to pass prematurely. In 2001, the original yellow ranger actor, Thuy Trang, died in a car accident after spending the day with her best friends as they prepared for a wedding. According to a fanzine, Frank was unable to attend her funeral because he was attending his brother Erik's.
Machiko Soga, aka Rita Repulsa, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 68. Robert L. Manahan, the original voice of Zordan, died of cancer at the age of 43. Other deaths, bullying, and criminal acts by members of the franchise have given rise to fan theories that the franchise is cursed. Real fans regard this as ridiculous, though.
Jason David Frank, Master of the Martial Arts and Legendary Childhood Hero
To keep the official obituary short, Frank was born in Covina, California on September 4, 1973. According to reports, he had one brother, Erik Frank, who died April 1, 2001, probably of illness, though it's unclear if that information was ever made public.
Frank was an actor by trade and master of martial arts by way of his soul. In addition to his work on the Power Rangers, Frank was a martial arts instructor, holding a black belt in Karate. He was inducted into the World Karate Union Hall Of Fame. He was sensei, instructor, and CEO of his own dojo, Rising Sun Academy, where he invented the "Toso Kune Do", a style of American Martial Arts.
Before opening Rising Sun, Frank made a number of attempts to fight professionally, signing with SuckerPunch Entertainment in 2004. He fought and won in several amateur matches and one professional match. He briefly held the Guinness World Record for the most broken 2 inch boards in free fall, breaking 7 out of 8 to beat the previous record of 2. He cemented his reign as a pop culture icon in an set of epic battles, first against Mortal Kombat's Scorpion in the Super Power Beatdown White Ranger vs. Scorpion and again in Green Ranger vs. Ryu from Street Fighter, both produced by Bat In The Sun.
Frank married his first wife Shawna in 1994. They had three children. Jason and Shawna Frank divorced in 2001, notably the year Jason's brother Erik died. Frank married his second wife Tammie in 2003, and they had one child.
In 2017, a stalker made an attempt on Frank's life, though the horror was averted by vigilant police who became aware of the soon-to-be attempted murderer Matthew Sterling's intentions from a series of threats made on social media.
According to some sources, Frank and his second wife Tammie were considering divorce in 2022, though it seems in the last few months, the couple were reconciling. It was only October 28, 2022 that Frank made an appearance at Big Texas Comic Con in my home town of San Antonio, Texas.
In his hotel room in Texas on a weekend away with his wife, Jason David Frank, a master of mixed martial arts, beloved childhood hero, husband, and father of four, took his own life on November 19, 2022.
The Sucker Punch
The world had no idea until November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving. it's unclear who broke the story first, but whoever it was, they got to it before Tammie Frank could make an official statement on November 30th. Unfortunately, many Millennials heard about it on Facebook, and rumors abounded about the nature of his death. Tammie has endured death threats and abuse thanks to the uncontrolled nature of the story and online fury.
It would have been difficult to keep the lid on. Frank had never left the limelight. He had been in the public eye, with much being made of his previous works and his most recent project, a grittier, more adult piece entitled Legend Of The White Dragon. In fact, on the night in question, Jason and Tammie were on a weekend getaway while making the convention circuit tour, with Frank set to engage fans in Paraguay later in November.
Nor was the world prepared for the sudden revelation that JDF had been suffering from severe depression, though it is a matter of public record that JDF could never truly break free of the grief he felt at the loss of his brother. The attempt on his life in 2017 also shook him despite being spared the horror of having a gun in his face. As a man who taught a whole generation the meaning of strength, no one, except his wife and children, could have guessed that Frank was hurting, and according to Tammie's talk with PEOPLE Magazine, not even she could have guessed how bad it was.
Divorce, or the prospect of divorce, can send even the most emotionally-checked out partners into extreme depression. There are feelings of betrayal--no, not just you. Everyone around you feels betrayed and sometimes they don't have a single problem telling you about it. There is confusion and struggle with identity--and again, it's not just you, but everyone around you as they try to fit you alone into a world that previously involved two people. They thought they knew you guys. They thought y'all were just fine. Yadda yadda yadda. There are financial struggles. Two paychecks are better than one. There's the problem of the kids. Frank's kids were grown or almost grown, but that doesn't make it easier. Divorce is ugly, but if sources are to be believed, and if Tammie and Jason really did argue the night of the incident, then the prospect of their divorce must have been bitter.
Toxic Masculinity: The Silent Assassin
But what would make a man think that taking a permanent way out is a good idea?
The CDC says depression is, "more than just feeling down or having a bad day," (Centers for Disease Control). Depression or feelings of sadness that last for a long time can disrupt normal thoughts and interfere with everyday life. People suffering from depression can often feel that removing themselves from the equation would be better for everyone. Folks suffering from depression can feel hopeless, helpless, and guilty.
In 2021, Omnia Health examined toxic masculinity as an unfortunate reality stemming from centuries of, "society teaching boys that they can’t and shouldn’t express emotion openly and that if they do, then they are weak and ‘feminine’. These boys then internalize these feelings and grow into men who have been taught that they can’t be anything less than ‘masculine’." Toxic masculinity equates the expression of normal feelings as "weakness". This taboo presents barriers to proper treatment for trauma, PTSD, and depression, resulting in the deaths of 1 in 5 men before the age of 50 (Pan American Health Organization). Frank had just turned 49.
You would think that an actor who spent as much time as he did in a coed franchise in which male characters fought and sparred alongside female teammates would have little trouble acknowledging feelings. However, a staunch masculine upbringing, a firm grip on faith, and a career built out of encouraging discipline and strength through martial prowess likely doesn't build a suitable foundation for reaching out. Genetics also plays a role in mental health, and many American adults go their entire lives refusing treatment even if they're aware of a problem. Certain medications, such as some anti-seizure meds, can also increase or introduce thoughts of suicide. Frank likely had many reasons for keeping his darkest moments to himself. Fear of disappointing his fans, fear of the press, fear of being labeled, fear of the end of his career, and--during divorce--the feelings of failure and inadequacy could have culminated in Frank's decision not to ask for help. Under that kind of stress, an ill-timed argument might just have been enough to convince anyone having those feelings that there was no other way.
It's something to pause and think about when you consider the unbelievable sadness of Frank's passing. His death came close on the heels of beloved Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy. Conroy's loss was devastating in and of itself, but Conroy had been sick for a while. The mind and soul have a way of paving that over, making peace a little easier knowing our loved one is no longer suffering.
But when someone has the intention of ending their life, they believe they are putting an end to not just their suffering, but those around them as well. Those who make the decision to commit suicide do so believing they will no longer be a burden. They may feel a sense of relief, finally finding peace in the idea that soon it will all be over.
No matter the cause of death, the loss of a piece of our childhood, a source of comfort, stability, and good sense in a chaotic phase of life leaves a gaping hole that nothing can adequately fill. We'll all move on from this, but Frank's family will never be the same. My heart goes out to Tammie and Frank's four children. No matter the depth of the loss of this man to the wider world, it can't compare to the horror of losing a family member in such a way.
I'm sure we've all had a chance to say it, but Jason David Frank, you were the light of your children's lives, and you brought joy to hundreds of thousands all over the world. I never got a chance to tell you that, and now you are not able to hear us pay tribute to you. You filled our minds and hearts with the spirit of adventure and goodness. You deserved so much better.
May you find the peace you've been looking for, and rest well knowing how much you gave to the world. #RangerNation forever.
If you or someone you know has expressed ideation or thoughts of suicide, help is available. Call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This hotline doesn't replace human compassion. Check on your friends and family, advocate for fair and equitable treatment of marginalized members of society, and vote to improve the availability of infrastructure that supports at-risk individuals and children. Be compassionate to everyone around you. We honor JDF's memory and remain faithful to Tommy Oliver's legacy by making the world a better place for everyone.
About the Creator
Austin, TX | GrimDark, Fantasy, Horror, Western, and nonfiction | Amazon affiliate and Vocal Ambassador | Tips and hearts appreciated! | Want to see more from me? Consider dropping me a pledge! | RIP Jason David Frank!