Jessica Campbell, who played Tammy Metzler in Election, has died at the age of 38.
Campbell’s family confirmed the news to TMZ, stating that Campbell died on December 29th, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. Campbell, who left acting to become a naturopathic physician, spent the day seeing patients at her practice, her cousin Sarah Wessling told the outlet. She went home to visit with her mother and aunt, and went to the bathroom and never returned.
Her aunt later found her collapsed on the bathroom floor; Campbell was unable to be revived when the EMTs arrived. Her family is waiting for the results of the autopsy, which was conducted by the Multnomah County Medical Examiner in Oregon.
Campbell was born on October 30th, 1982, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She first appeared in the 1992 TV movie In the Best Interest of the Children with Sarah Jessica Parker. In 1999, she starred in her best-known role, as Metzler in Election. The film was directed by Alexander Payne and starred Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. Campbell played Chris Klein’s angsty sister, whose girlfriend dumps her and leaves her for Klein’s character. Seeking revenge, she runs against him for class president.
In a film that had all-stars like Broderick and Witherspoon, Campbell stood out despite being a relative unknown. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance.
“Jessica was the last of the four leads chosen for Election,” Payne tells Rolling Stone. “I think she’d done only a little high school and nonprofessional acting in St. Louis, and her local agent there sent up to Omaha — where we were shooting — a VHS tape with Jessica’s perfect audition. She even had braces. We never met until the night before her first day of shooting, so there was no time to rehearse this nonprofessional actor; she just had to start working right in front of the camera. Her instincts for the character were always spot on and her discipline was exemplary. If she was ever nervous, she never showed it. Her mother was with us, too, an ER doctor — and Jessica later became a doctor as well. Jessica went on to act a lot, too, but it never went to her head.”
“Of the four leading protagonists of Election, her character was the grounded truth-teller — and there was little difference between the character and Jessica herself,” Payne added. “She was very smart, very grounded, very funny and kind, and you could see those qualities in her mother as well. Really good people. I can’t tell you how sad this recent, out-of-the-blue news made me, as I’m sure it does all who knew her.”
Campbell also starred in Freaks and Geeks, Paul Feig’s short-lived cult television series that was executive-produced by Judd Apatow. Campbell played the role of Amy Andrews, a tuba player in McKinley High’s marching band. She begins to date Ken (Seth Rogen), later revealing to him that she was born intersex.
“Jessica’s work on Freaks and Geeks was so heartfelt, vulnerable, and really sweet and funny,” Apatow tells Rolling Stone. “We all knew we were collaborating with a very special person. Several of the key scenes were improvised with Seth Rogen, and they were magic together. She created a character with strength and grace.”
Campbell later starred in 2001’s The Safety of Objects, opposite Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney, followed by 2002’s Junk.
Wessling has set up a GoFundMe account, raising funds for the funeral expenses — the cremation, memorial, and probate — as well as care for Campbell’s 10-year-old son, Oliver. Apatow donated $5,000 to the fundraiser.
“A true adventurer in every sense of the word, Jessica packed a staggering amount of experiences into her tragically short lifetime,” Wessling wrote on the GoFundMe page. “Listening to her talk, excitedly recounting her tales at a mile-a-minute, one could be forgiven for thinking, ‘Is this b*tch for real?’ But she was in fact for real and there was no one else like her. Traveling the world, acting, becoming a doctor, being Mom to the coolest kid ever; these bucket-list items wove the quotidian fabric of her reality. Her passion for life and the people in it was astounding.”
“In addition to the impressive energy she poured into her own life, Jessica, on multiple occasions, dropped everything to travel across state lines and care for her loved ones in need,” she continued. “She was fun, she was loud, she was compassionate and loyal; no matter what she did, she was always uniquely Jessica. Our phone chat is full of hilariously inappropriate memes. She could always be counted on as the instigator of, or at the very least a willing accomplice to, various forms of mischief and hijinks. To know her is to have an over-the-top story involving her. To know her is to have known true friendship.”