As Simba in
The Lion King
he was adored around the world, but when
the clapping stopped Jason
Raize lost his way.
The contrast could not have been starker:
a stage performer used to the
bright lights of Broadway, found dead and
alone, thousands of miles
Jason Raize Rothenberg was an
international star, young, talented,
charismatic, and loved by people
worldwide, especially children. But
last weekend he was found dead at a
property near Yass in NSW.
Raize had taken his own life. Goulburn and
Yass police and the Yass
coroner are conducting an investigation
into the 28-year-old's death.
Meanwhile, friends and family are trying
to piece together just why the
popular singer and actor -- who had
thousands of fans far and beyond
the New York entertainment community --
met such a tragic end. They are
struggling to understand how a bright and
enthusiastic rising star
could begin a downward slide they were
powerless to stop.
The Jason Raize the world knew had a
resume any struggling actor would
envy, his stage credits including roles in
productions of Jesus Christ
Superstar, The King and I, Miss Saigon,
Gypsy, West Side Story and The
Rocky Horror Show.
But his big break came in 1997, when he
shot to fame on Broadway as
Simba, the title character in The Lion
King, a role he played until
2000 to international acclaim.
Everybody who knew Raize while he was
starring in the show would tell
you he was always the life of the party;
an extrovert with a charming
and alluring personality who had a knack
of connecting with anyone.
In his years as Simba, he kept himself
In 1999, the United Nations appointed
Raize a goodwill ambassador "for
his commitment and dedication to
furthering the cause of the
Raize had a fledgling recording career
and, in 2000, he and American
singing sensation Jessica Simpson starred
in a Disney Channel special,
Jessica Simpson and Jason Raize in
Concert. Raize was hot property.
A quote on his website explains his
attitude to life and urges people
to follow their dreams, as he did.
"I spent a lot of time when I was a kid
dreaming of a time when I'd be
able to get out and start performing,'' he
"And it's been such a roller-coaster ride,
but anybody who feels that
they're kind of sitting in a life that
they're not happy with or
they're not dreaming enough, basically
take a stand for yourself and
stick up for yourself and get out there
and enjoy it.''
But after The Lion King ended in August
2000, it seems Raize couldn't
He turned to television, securing his own
show, Keeping It Wild with
Jason Raize , and travelled the world.
Raize visited Australia and fell in love:
with the land, the animals
and the people.
It was about this time that everything
changed -- the bubbly and
enchanting character vanished as Raize
withdrew into himself.
In January last year, Raize returned to
the Disney fold to do
voice-overs for the animated film Brother
Bear with Joaquin Phoenix.
In May, in an effort to deal with his
depression, Raize returned to
Australia to spend time with friends he
had met in New York and others
he had made while filming wildlife
One of those friends was world-renowned
glass artist Peter Crisp, who
owns a gallery at Bowning, close to where
Raize last stayed and killed
Crisp said he doesn't know what happened
to Raize that caused him to
spiral into a "sheer state of
depression'', but he said the star's life
had changed after he stopped performing on
Broadway. "Jason found
things very difficult after finishing The
Lion King,'' Crisp says.
"It's a roller-coaster for a period of
time and then suddenly you
think, 'Crumbs, where am I up to? There
was a lot of self-assessment
"Even his family in the States have no
idea what sort of suddenly made
him more introverted, having been that
"No one can actually say what happened.''
Crisp said Jason's sister, Lisa Williams,
would say that her brother
had died two years ago, in terms of him
The last time Raize saw his stepmother,
Sarah MacArthur, was in the
summer of 2002.
By any standards, Raize's home life was
complicated. He was adopted as
a baby by Robert Rothenberg and his wife.
Rothenberg's wife died when Raize was two
years old. MacArthur says
that's when she met Rothenberg and they
moved in together.
In Raize's last year at school, Rothenberg
and MacArthur split up, but
Raize lived with one parent or the other
until he graduated.
When asked if Jason was a family man,
"He was a pretty independent kind of
guy,'' she says from
Massachusetts. "He pretty much belonged to
So independent, in fact, that he didn't
tell his family he had returned
to Australia, although MacArthur says she
knew that he loved the
"He said to me he wanted to go back to
Australia and see the Keeping It
Wild people again,'' Macarthur says.
"There was some kind of nice connection he
had with Australia.''
MacArthur says Raize was one of those
people "that make you feel just
bigger and better''.
"There was a wonderful energy about him
but it wasn't just a busy kind
of energy, it was an energy with
connecting people,'' she says.
"Signing the autographs for the kids was
just beautiful to watch. You
could see the kids just come alive.''
MacArthur says she didn't know whether
Raize had a partner, saying he
was a "pretty private'' person.
But she often asked Raize whether he was
happy, flitting from one city
to another, never settled in one place.
"I asked him about that. When you're
famous, do you really know who
your friends are?'' she says.
"But he said he had a lot of friends. He
was always very comfortable
MacArthur is the first to admit she wasn't
privy to a lot of her
"There's a lot that we just don't know,''
she says. Crisp, who has kept
in regular contact with MacArthur, agrees
and is still trying to piece
together the fragments of the jigsaw.
Yesterday, he learned Raize had come to
Australia last May and spent
the first two months in Sydney with a
female friend he met while
performing on Broadway. Crisp last saw
Raize on January 25, the day
after Raize had entertained guests at a
mutual friend's 40th birthday
party with songs from popular musicals,
including Les Miserables.
Raize had been staying with a friend of
Crisp's, and by all accounts,
was thoroughly enjoying the country
Crisp says that after the party, Raize
pulled him aside and told him:
"I'm so grateful for you to have given me
this opportunity to be living
with this family and to be out in the
Less than two weeks later, he was dead.