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The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)
Spotlight Fades on Fallen Star
by Alison Rehn
February 14, 2004

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 from home.

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 extremely busy.

In 1999, the United Nations appointed Raize a goodwill ambassador "for his commitment and dedication to furthering the cause of the environment''.

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 said.

"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 settle down.

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 documentaries.

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 himself.

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 going on.

"Even his family in the States have no idea what sort of suddenly made him more introverted, having been that great extrovert.

"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 changing forever.

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, MacArthur laughs.

"He was a pretty independent kind of guy,'' she says from Massachusetts. "He pretty much belonged to the world.''

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 country.

"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 with people.''

MacArthur is the first to admit she wasn't privy to a lot of her stepson's goings-on.

"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 solitude.

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 country.''

Less than two weeks later, he was dead.

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