Jas Waters, Audacious and ‘Brilliant’ TV Writer, Dies by Suicide at 39
With credits including ‘This Is Us’ and ‘Kidding,’ Waters’ unlikely path in Hollywood was just getting started.
Screenwriter Jas Waters died this week by suicide at the age of 39. During her career, Waters wrote for series including The Breaks, This Is Us, and Kidding. Waters’ success in the industry was no guarantee—but as This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman wrote in a tribute following her death, she “made an indelible mark.”
Shadow & Act described Waters with one word during an interview a few years ago: audacious. Waters was raised by her father and grandmother. Until the age of 16, she shared a pull-out bed with her grandmother in a retirement home.
“A billion things had to conspire together for me to get here,” Waters told the publication in 2018. “Listen, I was raised in an old folks’ home. I never had a traditional life; I never had a safe, cookie-cutter, predictable, affirming life. From the moment I got here, the rules didn’t apply to me. If the basic rules of raising a kid didn’t apply to me, then nothing else really applies to me. So I just had to figure it out.”
“There were several times in my life that I found to be very confining,” she added. “But as I look back on it, it was very freeing.”
Waters joined This Is Us as a staff writer in Season 2, and contributed to such landmark episodes as “Super Bowl Sunday,” which revealed how the Pearson patriarch, Jack, died after a house fire. Responding to Waters’ death, the NBC show’s writers posted a tribute on Twitter. Actors including Mandy Moore and Susan Kelechi Watson also joined in to pay their respects.
“The entire #ThisIsUs family was devastated to learn of Jas Waters passing,” the writers said. “In our time together, Jas left her mark on us and ALL over the show. She was a brilliant storyteller and a force of nature. We send our deepest sympathies to her loved ones. She was one of us. RIP.”
In his own tribute Fogelman added, “This news took my breath away. Jas was absolutely brilliant and had so many stories still to tell. She made an indelible mark on our show and my heart breaks for her loved ones.”
Waters grew up watching a variety of film and television, and her body of work is equally diverse in scope. But at times, she said, she felt pigeonholed by societal perceptions of what black writers can contribute to a project.
“When Kidding first premiered, there was a joke in the pilot about Rosa Parks,” she told Shadow & Act. “I can’t tell you how many people hit me saying, ‘That had to be you.’ It’s so well-meaning, and I was so honored that they watched the show looking for me. But I was so discouraged that they thought the only thing I could contribute was a Rosa Parks joke—but that’s across the board. That was friends, family and followers.”
She also noted the disparity in how black writers can be treated and appreciated, depending on what kinds of projects they help produce.
“We as people of color want to see ourselves; we deserve to see ourselves,” Waters said. “So the fight first is to see ourselves—and that is a very rightful fight—but it’s a fight that I also fight.”
On Kidding, she noted, she was the only black writer—which meant that often, the burden of asking questions like “Why is everyone in this scene white?” would fall on her. “My fight is still the same fight, and I don’t have anyone who looks like me fighting in the room,” she said. “I’m fighting alone, but I’m still fighting.”
Waters knew how unlikely her professional path was, and it was that awareness that she said kept her grounded. “Last year for Thanksgiving, I went home to Chicago, and I drove over to the old folks’ home that I grew up in,” she told Shadow & Act. “I remember being a kid and losing my key in the elevator shaft like once a month, being yelled at by the old folks because I was running everywhere, and them teaching me the right way to do laundry. I have a profound sense of gratitude because the unlikelihood that a little girl sharing a bed with her grandmother would be where I am now is slim to none.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741