Taraji P. Henson Says the Cast of Empire Misses Jussie Smollett: 'He's Family to Us'

Dana Rose Falcone

Empire will come to an end with its upcoming sixth season, but one member of the Lyon family won’t be around to say goodbye.

Creator Lee Daniels confirmed in June that Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon, will not be returning for the series’ last season after the 37-year-old was indicted with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report claiming two men attacked him in an apparent hate crime in Chicago in January.

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“We miss Jussie,” Empire star Taraji P. Henson said on the People and Entertainment Weekly Red Carpet Live: 2019 Emmy Awards pre-show on Sunday. “He’s family to us. There’s no way we can throw five years of family away. I miss him.”

Taraji P. Henson at the 2019 Emmy Awards in L.A. on Sept. 22. | John Shearer/Getty
Taraji P. Henson at the 2019 Emmy Awards in L.A. on Sept. 22. | John Shearer/Getty
Jussie Smollett in N.Y.C. on Nov. 28. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Jussie Smollett in N.Y.C. on Nov. 28. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Henson, 49, plays Jamal’s mom Cookie Lyon. “Certainly Cookie misses him,” the actress continued. “He was her favorite. That was her first family member she visited when she got out of jail.”

Smollett had pleaded not guilty to allegations that he lied to police when he said he was attacked in what authorities later claimed was a staged incident to draw attention to himself. At the end of March, all charges against Smollett were suddenly dropped.

Smollett’s attorneys released a statement to PEOPLE after the charges were dropped, saying, “Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him. Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.”

Despite Smollett’s absence, Henson promised that season six of Empire “is going to be so incredible.”

“Cookie is finding herself,” Henson said. “It’s not about the empire any more. It’s not about Lucious anymore, it’s not about her kids. It’s about her. I think a lot of women will identify with that.”

RELATED VIDEO: Jussie Smollett’s Siblings Reveal He ‘Has a Lot in the Works’ 6 Months After Hate Crime Scandal

And of course, the Oscar nominee will miss playing the Lyon matriarch.

“I will miss what she meant for so many people. She was the one who fought off all the bullies,” Henson said. “I guess that’s kind of me in life. I take up for people who can’t speak for themselves.”

Empire returns to Fox on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.

The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards are airing live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles starting at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.”