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Disney and The Lion King

Jason Raize

The Film
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The Lion King VI Human Encounter Ver. 1.4 (Story)
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How Shenzi and Banzai Met (Story)
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The Scarring of Taka (Story)
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Jason Raize
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Jason Raize was born on July 20, 1975. He grew up in upstate New York, eventually moving to Oneonta, and started acting when he was a teenager. In the summer of 1994, Jason performed at the Bucks County Playhouse in La Cage aux Folles, Oklahoma!, The King and I (as Lun Tha), Phantom (title role), and Rocky Horror Show (as Rocky.) Jason has also appeared in Gypsy, West Side Story, Twelfth Night, and in national tours of Jesus Christ Superstar (with Ted Neeley) and Miss Saigon.

Jason appeared on Broadway in The King and I, and is best known on stage for originating the role of Simba in Julie Taymor's The Lion King in 1997. During his time with TLK Jason performed "Endless Night" and "He Lives in You" on The Rosie O'Donnell Show  as well as "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" on two occasions on Good Morning America.

In September 1998, Jason recorded the Simon & Garfunkel classic "The Sounds of Silence" for a compilation album called The Paul Simon Album: Broadway Sings the Best of Paul Simon. The album also features Christiane Noll, Jose Llana, Lauren Kennedy, Jane Krakowski, and Sal Viviano.

In 1999, Jason organized a benefit for Kosovo refugees at the New Amsterdam Theatre. "E! Fashion Emergency" covered the event.

In October 1999, the United Nations appointed Jason a Goodwill Ambassador "for his commitment and dedication to furthering the cause of the environment through the use of his creative talents to inspire respect for our natural heritage and to promote the conservation and sustainable use of the earth's resources." 

Jason released two singles under Universal Records ("Taste the Tears" and "You Win Again"), both produced by Desmond Child (Ricky Martin's producer.) His debut CD, scheduled to be released by Universal Records, was called NYC but was not officially released. 

In summer 2000, Jason and Jessica Simpson starred in a Disney Channel special called Jessica Simpson and Jason Raize in Concert. The concert was filmed in Disneyland and featured Jason singing "You Win Again," "I Can Make It Without You," and "NYC."

Jason returned to the New York theater scene in January 2001 for a concert performance of Carmen Jones. His made-for-TV-movie The Kitchen aired on PBS the following fall.

That same fall, Jason's television series Keeping It Wild debuted on CBS. This informative show featured Jason on location learning about animals in their natural habitats.

Jason provided the voice of Denahi in the Disney animated feature Brother Bear, released in theaters in fall 2003 and now available on DVD. The film also features Joaquim Phoenix (Signs) as the voice of one of Denahi's two brothers.

Tragically, Jason ended his own life on February 3, 2004 in Yass, Australia. Though the circumstances of his death are heartbreaking, we'd like to remember all the joy that Jason brought to friends, family, and fans in his 28 years of life.

A memorial service for Jason was held on April 8, 2004, at the New Amsterdam Theatre where Jason had thrilled crowds as Simba seven years earlier. The service included speeches by Jason's sister Lisa and DIsney Theatricals' Thomas Schumacher, a performance by Jason's former Lion King co-star Heather Headley, a slide show and home movies from Jason's younger days, clips of Jason performing in Lion King and on television, and a traditional South African celebration of passing into the next world led by cast members of The Lion King.

For young people starting out as actors, Jason gave the following advice: "First off, involve yourself in any project in your immediate area. That will give you a taste for what you like to do, because there are so many different styles of performance art, and you don't want to do something that ultimately you don't like. After that, find supporters and adults around you, and then make the move to a major performing arts community in the world - usually New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Then involve yourself in a class, to work with teachers and other actors, but also to introduce you to people doing the same thing you are, and will give you good friends."


I think the process of doing "Lion King" was very high profile. A lot of people pay attention to what Disney does. Record companies and music industry people were paying attention to me in "Lion King," and I started to get offers right away -- even out of town, before we came to Broadway."
--Jason Raize



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Jason Raize, Broadway's Original Simba in The Lion King, Dead at 28

By Kenneth Jones
09 Feb 2004

Jason Raize.
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Jason Raize Rothenberg, the handsome young actor who played Simba in Broadway's The Lion King, died suddenly in Yass, Australia, his family confirmed.

Mr. Rothenberg (whose stage name was Jason Raize) was 28. The actor took his own life the week of Feb. 2, according to sources in the theatre community.

He lived in the Oneonta, NY, area throughout his childhood, and performed in numerous Oneonta and Orpheus Theatre productions.

Prior to playing the title character in The Lion King at Broadway's New Amsterdam, Mr. Raize succeeded Dennis DeYoung of Styx in a national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, playing Pilate.

His credits included productions of The King and I, Miss Saigon, Yeston & Kopit's Phantom (title role) and Gypsy. His original Stagebill bio for The Lion King included this quote: "You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last." The source was Marcus Antonius.

His last performance on Broadway in The Lion King was Aug. 20, 2000.

The young actor used his talents to address concerns for the environment, and was named an Ambassador of Goodwill for the UN Environment Program.

His television program "Keeping It Wild With Jason Raize" grew out of a strong desire to promote alliances between the environment and entertainment communities, and through it to show children in particular that exciting possibilities exist, according to his family.

Mr. Raize was predeceased by his mother Geraldine Bakalar Rothenberg and his brother Andrew Werner Rothenberg. He is survived by his father Robert Rothenberg of Oneonta, NY; mother Sarah MacArthur of Wrentham, MA; sister Lisa Williams of Poughquag, NY; step-mother Monet Rothenberg of Oneonta, NY; step father Jim Kidd of Wrentham, MA; step-brothers Kevin Williams, Dwayne Whitney, Khary Menelik, and Brandon Swain, and step-sisters Haabiba Whitney, and Nicole Swain.

A memorial service will be held 2 PM Feb. 15 at the Unitarian Universalist Society, 12 Ford Avenue, Oneonta. All are welcome to attend, and to share a story, poem, reading or song. You may bring a copy of a photo or a written story for a memorial scrapbook.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to Orpheus Theatre in Oneonta are welcome.

Jason Raize as Simba

Jason Raize in costume as Simba

Jason Raize (Simba) Heather Headley (Nala)