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Mario Lopez Pays Tribute to Dustin Diamond: ‘He Was Like a Fun, Goofy Little Brother’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Mario Lopez and Dustin Diamond first met on the set of Saturday morning sitcom “Saved by the Bell” in the late 1980s and worked together for four years on that show, plus another on the “College Years” spinoff. Lopez was a cool jock named A.C. Slater, while Diamond played the school geek, Samuel “Screech” Powers,” but the characters were part of the same friend group and off-screen, Lopez tells Variety, Diamond “was like a fun, goofy little brother.

News of Diamond’s death from cancer on Feb. 1 came as a huge shock to Lopez, even though he knew his friend and former co-star was sick. (Although Diamond went on to star in “Saved by the Bell’s” other spinoff, “The New Class,” for six years while Lopez expanded his career into other acting, hosting and producing other properties, the two stayed in contact through the years, Lopez says.)

“I actually just spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. He was reluctant to go in [to the hospital] for a while because he didn’t know if anything was going to get out. And I said, ‘Bro, that’s foolish, you’ve got to get in there and take care of yourself and forget what people are saying.’ Some people thought his illness was a joke, which is awful, but the internet always spills tales. When all of this was happening, I was optimistic that he would make a recovery, but it was obviously too late,” Lopez says.

“From when I found out he was sick to his passing, it’s been incredibly quick. It’s so fresh, it’s incredibly hard to process. And it’s shocking because he was so young; he was only 44. I honestly thought, ‘There’s no way [he won’t make it]. It sucks, but he’ll bounce back.’”

Diamond was a few years younger than the rest of the core cast of Bayside High students (Lopez himself was born in 1973, while Diamond was born in 1977), and reflecting on his time working with Diamond as a teenager, Lopez recalls the actor and comedian as “a goofy kid.”

“We shot a lot in the summer time, so it was a lot of juvenile, silly, fun antics stuff that we’d get into. I thought he was a funny kid. I liked to have fun and he was like my side-kick; But Lopez also recalls Diamond’s comedy chops being the real deal, even at such a young age. “He was iconic,” Lopez says. “In general, his little looks and facial expressions and voice and the way it cracked, it was just the quintessential goofy, lovable fun nerd [character] and it really resonated with the kids. And that was all him; he was kind of like Screech in real life.”

About “Saved by the Bell” as a whole, Lopez adds, “He was an integral part of the chemistry and the comedy, and I don’t know if it would have worked without him.”

Lopez recently starred in and served as a producer on the first season of Peacock’s continuation of “Saved by the Bell.” Although Diamond did not reprise his role as a guest star, his character was referenced.

“We were really hoping he’d make an appearance on Season 2,” Lopez says. “Now I’m really going to push for some sort of tribute. I would love a whole episode dedicated to some of his most iconic moments or something like that. We have a lot of very creative minds who can try to figure it out, but I haven’t had those conversations yet.”

“I’ve reached out to his family, and I’m at peace knowing that I was always there for him, I kept in contact with him. He’ll continue to be in my prayers, along with his family, but he knows he had a friend in me,” Lopez adds.

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