When Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson revealed earlier this month that they had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has spread across the globe, things got serious. It kicked off a wave of celebrity PSAs and messages urging fans to practice kindness and, most importantly, take the virus seriously.
Amid the chaos, Hanks and Wilson’s son Chester Hanks, who has also gone by his rapper name “Chet Haze,” has provided frequent updates about his parents’ condition and taken conspiracy theorists to task for spreading misinformation. The Hanks son has become a voice of reason—soothing in a similar way to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose stern leadership has garnered him considerable praise and even a few coronavirus crushes despite his less-than-stellar track record. Like Cuomo, Chet Haze is something of an unlikely “hero” himself, given that just months ago, he was best known for the weeks in January he spent speaking in Jamaican patois for some reason—and, previously, having frequently used the “N” word both in his music and on social media.
When Hanks and Wilson first tested positive, their son posted a video of his own on Instagram to update fans. It was the first of several posts in which the actor-rapper would encourage fans not to panic.
“They both are fine,” Hanks said of his parents. “They’re not worried about it; they’re not tripping, but they’re going through the necessary precautions, obviously. But I don’t think it’s anything to be too worried about.” And last week he provided another update on their condition, noting that they had left the hospital and were self-quarantining in Australia.
“I think the most important thing is that we just stay calm, because panicking really isn’t necessary and it’s just making things more difficult than they need to be,” Hanks said before calling out people who are acting selfishly in the face of the pandemic: “If you went to the grocery store and hoarded all the water and the toilet paper for yourself, I think you’re the problem,” he said.
“If we’re all a little less selfish and a little more selfless, we’re all gonna be completely fine,” Hanks added. “I know this is crazy, but I’m just wishing everybody the best, and we’re gonna get through this.”
And over the weekend, Hanks pivoted to make fun of right-wing conspiracy theorists as well.
“I’m really stressed out right now,” he said in a sarcastic video. “It’s been coming to my attention that a lot of Trump supporters have been figuring out the truth about me and my family being in the...” He pulled down his shirt collar to reveal an Illuminati tattoo.
Hanks noted that theories have been spreading on “extremely reliable websites” like 4chan and 8chan, adding, “If somebody wrote it on the internet, you know it must be true.”
“I guess I’m just gonna have to work extra hard at my human sacrifices,” Hanks snarked. “I’m late for one right now and I’m a little hungry so I might eat someone’s pineal gland on the way... Just know that we’re watching you, and if you’re talking shit on the internet, you’re gonna be one of the first people sent to the FEMA camps.”
Although the novel coronavirus outbreak has certainly boosted Hanks’ name recognition this year, he actually made headlines in January as well, when he broke out in Jamaican patois on the red carpet at the Golden Globes.
It was, more than anything, a confusing moment—one that garnered a fair amount of attention. Social media users—including a couple of Hanks’ former Northwestern classmates—poked fun at him. But Hanks seemed amused by the confused responses—and posted a few more videos in patois. In the final of these videos, he said, “All right, enough’s enough. Never in a million years would I have thought that me just goofing around on the red carpet would have got so much attention, but man it’s been crazy. And one thing I’m not joking about is my love and appreciation for Jamaica, the Jamaican culture.”
“I just wanted to say thank you,” Hanks said. “You know it’s all in good fun. I’m a goofball; I goof around. But that’s one thing I’m not joking about is my love for the Jamaican people, the Jamaican culture.”
Before that, Hanks was perhaps best known as one of Hollywood’s silver-spoon emcees—a celebrity child who seemed to be affecting swagger in a search for identity. (In recent years, his acting career—which includes roles on TV series like Empire, Shameless, and Curb Your Enthusiasm—has superseded his music, although he remains active in both.) In 2018 Hanks got sober after years of drug use that, on one occasion in 2015, saw British police looking for Hanks after he trashed a hotel room.
Hanks has attributed his past, frequent use of the “N” word—both in his music and on social media—to his former drug use. During an appearance on former TMZ staffer Van Lathan’s “Red Pill” podcast, after years of defending his use of the word, Hanks said, “I wanted to be, like, down, you know what I mean? I just felt like I wasn’t enough... Low-key, like subconsciously, looking back on it now I realize I was trolling.”
Hanks said that he’d hoped eccentric behavior and “wilding the fuck out” would jump-start his career. “I did the ultimate lame thing,” he said. “I did the ultimate cornball thing. And that shit wasn’t cool.”
Perhaps the pandemic has finally allowed Chester Hanks to live more authentically as “Chester Hanks.” Maybe acting as his parents’ spokesman has allowed him to process the role their fame has played in his own life. Or maybe it’s just a matter of time before he busts out the patois again. The possibilities with this man seem endless—but for now, at least, it seems he’s managed to get his messaging just right.