Thanks to her dad, Vicky Satterwhite has fond memories of Jason David Frank.
Satterwhite, a Houston high school visual arts teacher, used to accompany her father Rob Lee to different comics conventions around Texas in the mid to late 2010s. Her old man had an amusing hobby: He would make his own Doctor Who props.
“He kind of retired and got real bored and decided that he could build all the things he always wanted when he was a kid,” Satterwhite told the Texas Observer.
Their inventory included a Tardis (of course) and two Daleks, which she and her pops often rode around the convention floors. (Satterwhite said she and her family sold all the props last year after her father retired from the con circuit.) It’s also at these conventions where she would bump into Frank. They’d often sit next to the California-born actor-turned-mixed martial artist (who lived in Houston and owned several martial gyms in the city) at cons in such locations as Dallas, Victoria, and Bell County. She knew Frank was a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers castmate—and that’s it.
“Honestly, I don’t care anything about Power Rangers because I’m just a little bit older than that whole group,” she remembered. “So, I didn’t grow up with them or have any of that nostalgia. But seeing, especially, little kids with that guy was amazing. He would bring out the karate boards and he would get the kids to kick them and hit them and show them how to break them—kind of build up their confidence and make them hold his props for photos and things like that. It was really charming.”
On November 19, Frank’s representative Justine Hunt confirmed that Frank took his own life at a Houston hotel. He was 49. Tammie, his second wife, told People that they were on a weekend getaway, repairing the 19-year marriage after Mrs. Frank filed for divorce last summer. Following a night of dancing and drinking, they adjourned to their separate rooms. (Jason was too much of a snorer.)
TMZ reported that the couple had two heated arguments—the last one led to Jason locking Tammie out of his room and Tammie making an early-morning call to the cops, concerned for his safety. But Tammie disputed the claims, saying the pair was just having loud fun. Authorities were eventually called to open up Jason’s door when the knocks went unanswered. “The truth is, I had no idea that Jason was thinking of ending things,” said Tammie, who also says she’s been getting harassed online. “Yes, he had struggled with mental health issues and depression before, but I could never predict what would happen that night.”
Jason David Frank, seen here at GalaxyCon Minneapolis 2019, was beloved at conventions nationwide. Flickr/Super Festivals, Creative Commons license
Between Frank’s suicide and the recent passing of Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Caped Crusader in Batman: The Animated Series and other Dark Knight-related cartoon work, I’m sure those children of the ’90s who watched these guys on Fox Kids every weekday after school have had a tough month. Yes, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had a notoriously campy rep, becoming a pop-culture sensation by crafting teen superhero adventures out of mostly stock footage from Japanese tokusatsu (read: genre) shows. However, as Tommy Oliver (aka the original Green Ranger), Frank was a much-beloved TV hero. He was a main character on Mighty Morphin and other incarnations, including Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo, and Power Rangers Dino Thunder (where he returned as a Power Ranger veteran). He also did time as the first evil ranger, almost beating down the other rangers while under the spell of Rita Repulsa. (Needless to say, he broke free of Repulsa’s spell and got back together with his Rangers peoples.)
But in real life, Frank—who had two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage, had to deal with losing several loved ones throughout the years. A year before his death, his stepdaughter Shayla committed suicide at age 26. He was also not the first Power Ranger to die tragically. Thuy Trang, who played original Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan, died after a horrific car accident in 2001, just a few days before 9/11. Frank couldn’t make her funeral because he was still mourning the death of his older brother Erik (who played Tommy Oliver’s long-lost older brother during the Zeo era), who died of an unspecified illness in April of that year.
Frank may have been hurting inside, but he never let it show according to Satterwhite.
“He was always really positive, which is kind of sad in hindsight,” she said. “Like, incredibly positive, making people feel good about themselves and making them feel kind of empowered—you know, like he felt, I guess.”
Even when he was almost the target of a heavily-armed gunman at a Phoenix Comicon in 2017, Frank continued to be there for his fans. Aimee McCurtain, chief strategy officer for Houston convention Comicpalooza, saw it when Frank did appearances in 2015 and 2017.
“Jason David Frank was beloved by many and always had a line of eager fans waiting to take photos with him or have their memorabilia autographed,” McCurtain told the Observer. “He always knew how to take care of them and took time meeting his fans.”
“He was always really positive, which is kind of sad in hindsight.”
McCurtain says Comicpalooza has a community outreach program that gives philanthropic organizations the opportunity to educate attendees on their missions and various programs.
“As a group, we have discussed how Comicpalooza can educate and build awareness on a number of social topics, including suicide prevention,” she said. “We believe that creating a place for connection and conversation will help those in need in a number of ways.”
Satterwhite hopes Frank’s unfortunate passing will incite those who may have thought of cutting their lives short to find some reasons to stick around.
“I’ve had multiple, really close students to me take their own lives, and there’s always this guilt of not being able to do anything,” she said. “I hope all his fans think about the time they spent with him and how he made them feel special and, hopefully, that’ll help them get through it.”