Comedian and radio host Rickey Smiley is committed to finding a silver lining in a tragic situation. His 32-year-old son Brandon died of what was revealed to be fentanyl and ethanol toxicity in January and he is determined to help other people in similar situations.
Smiley, who is the host of The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, discussed the current opioid crisis and how it’s affecting families.
“More young people are dying,” said Smiley in a conversation with PEOPLE. “It’s a terrible epidemic.”
Since 1999, over 932,000 people have died from a drug overdose according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In terms of Fentanyl-related deaths, over 150 people a day die from the drug. It is said to be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
“There’s a lot of people that lost their kids,” says Smiley. “I felt like I had a responsibility to show people my faith and how I’m getting through.”
One way the father does this is by listening to callers who are in similar situations and talking about his son while on air, says his producer Tonya Clackum. She goes by Beyonce Alowishus on the morning show.
“He’s very compassionate, embracing other families who also lost children,” Clackum said. “And he’s been embraced too.”
Smiley says that Brandon struggled with an addiction to painkillers years prior to his death. He’s opened up about the efforts made in the past to help him overcome it.
“His mother and I made several attempts to send him to get the help that he needed, to send him to rehab,” Smiley said during a recent visit to the Tamron Hall Show. “We thought he was doing better. He had just joined the church, just got baptized again probably a month before he passed away.”
Smiley didn’t see any clear signs of drug use before Brandon’s passing. He did, however, grow concerned when he noticed hidden beer cans and marijuana. The award-winning comedian said this “changed their relationship.” He also noticed his son had more mood swings than usual.
“I knew something was off,” Smiley, 54, told the magazine.
“I just got overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to resent him, so I had to create space,” who admits they didn’t speak that much before his passing. “
“I just got overwhelmed, and I didn’t want to resent him, so I had to create space,” says Smiley, who hadn’t spoken to Brandon much in the two years before his death. However, Rickey says “he knew how much I loved him. I always told him. I always told him how proud I was of him. Everything that I could say to him, I did say to him.”
Before his passing, Brandon was working at a landscaping company, raising his three-year-old daughter and aspiring to become a stand-up comedian like his father. His daughter Storm, 3, has been a source of strength for Rickey.
The radio host and comedian has three other children, including Malik, Aaryn, and D’Essence Smiley.