‘This Is Us’: Sterling K. Brown and Randall Pearson Share This Devastating Similarity

One of the more heart-wrenching backstories on This Is Us follows Randall Pearson’s (Sterling K. Brown) journey of finding his biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), who’s dying of terminal cancer. The meeting takes place some years after losing an adoptive father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). Brown may not know those exact experiences, but he and Randall do have something in common, and it’ll break your heart.

Randall Pearson lost his biological father, then his adoptive father

Ron Cephas Jones and Sterling K. Brown
Ron Cephas Jones as William, Sterling K Brown as Randall | Maarten de Boer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

The pilot episode of This Is Us introduces Randall the day he finally tracks down William and knocks on his door. Randall hired a private investigator to find his father. William left infant Randall at a fire station.

Understandably, Randall is angry, confused, and looking for answers as to why William abandoned him. The very fabric of those decisions created such a void in Randall, he’d spend his entire life clinging to perfectionism — to the point of mental health deterioration — to be sure he’s good enough for everyone so they would accept him.

The interaction with William comes on Randall’s 36th birthday. It’s also the birthday of Randall’s deceased adoptive father, Jack, who died after inhaling too much smoke in a house fire when Randall was a teen.

Both losses defined Randall’s character in ways his brother Kevin (Justin Hartley), and sister, Kate (Chrissy Metz), can’t relate to. They each have grieved in different ways for Jack, but it’s Randall who’s reeling from two fathers and two fathers’ deaths.

Though Brown wasn’t adopted like his fictional counterpart, there is one thing he can sadly relate to, and likely wishes he didn’t.

Sterling K. Brown lost his father at a young age

In a recent interview with Men’s Health, Brown opened up about the greatest loss in his life. His father, Sterling Sr., died of a diabetes-induced heart attack at the age of 45. Brown was just 10 years old at the time.

“I just cried. I just cried. I miss him,” Brown said.

He echoed the heartbreaking story in an interview with Willie Geist for Today.

He remembers, “Waking up that morning and going into the kitchen and my mom being on the phone and calling the paramedics, and asking me to put clothes on my dad, ‘cause he was naked in the bed.”

“And his body was stiff. And as they’re carrying him out on the stretcher, he looks at me over the railing, and he winks. Just winks. They carry him out the door — last time I saw him.”

Brown said he considered his father the “cool dad,” adding they were like best friends. He attributes being in touch with his emotions to have a father like Sterling Sr.

“Crying has never been a thing for me, like as a way to not be masculine,” Brown said.

“Because my dad would watch a movie and it was just boo-fuckin’-hoo all the way through the whole thing. We would both be crying together, whether it was an animated movie or whatever. That was never forbidden or taboo. I was allowed to feel because he felt.”

Randall and Brown navigate grief and loss in similar ways

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Randall and Brown suffered losses in different ways, but their coping strategies have a similar feel. Brown, who went by his middle name Kelby, began going by his first name, Sterling, as a teen as part of the grieving process to embrace his full name.

It all sounds eerily like something Randall Pearson would do in honor of Jack.

“Sterling always felt like an old man’s name because it was my old man’s name,” he says. “But now it’s my name.”

Another way Brown’s come to grips with the loss is by focusing his energy on becoming the best version of himself possible. Mortality and fear of dying young like his father loomed until he took control back.

“I think when Pops passed, I had sort of a recognition of the fact that 45 was young,” he said, referencing the fact that he wants to live to be 100.

“There’s so much to live for, and I don’t want to sell myself short by thinking I don’t have a right to longevity and vitality any more or less than anyone else.”

There’s so much Brown in Randall and vice versa, it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. Either way, we’re sure when This Is Us returns in January, Randall will find his way. Sterling Jr. already has.