Four years after the sudden and tragic death of Everybody Loves Raymond actor Sawyer Sweeten, his family has honored him by dedicating a theater in his name.
On Tuesday, April 23, many of Sweeten’s family members and friends as well as those close to him from the Los Angeles based theater company, Loft Ensemble, came together at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, California where two old theaters on the church’s grounds were restored in remembrance of the actor.
Those who gathered wore shirts reading “Sawyer’s Crew” and shared memories and tributes through art for the special dedication ceremony.
The family named the upstairs theater “Sawyer’s Playhouse” and marked it with a plaque that reads, “May this place be a light for all to find safety and friendship through creativity. Dedicated on April 23, 2019 by the Sawyer Sweeten Foundation, the Rosenthal Family Foundation, and Ray and Anna Romano.”
Sweeten’s family, friends and former costars were shocked back in 2015 when the 19-year-old took his own life on April 23 while visiting family in Texas, where he and his twin brother Sullivan were born.
Sullivan and Sawyer were best known for their roles as Michael and Geoffrey Barone on the beloved sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond where their real-life older sister Madylin Sweeten also starred as their older sister Ally Barone.
Madylin Sweeten revealed that after the Lost Ensemble was told they would have to leave the theater because of a rent increase, Madylin and those part of the theater decided to hold a fundraiser and restore the theater in dedication of Sawyer.
“We reached out to the Rosenthal family (Philip Rosenthal is the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) and the Romanos and asked them if they’d be interested in participating as well,” the 27-year-old told PEOPLE. “They said not only would they be interested, they’d be interested in matching the Sawyer Sweeten Foundation. We’re very lucky that we were able to get enough to renovate both spaces.”
During the dedication ceremony, Madylin opened up about the loss of her brother.
“My brother was a very deep and brute guy,” she said. “It worked for him. He wore it well. Most of the one-on-one conversations that I had with him were about the existential dilemmas that we have. He had so many ideas about what this was all about, where we go when we die and who we were meant to be not on this planet. He believed in things and in people and it’s what made him happiest.”
“I think that’s why he likes this place so much and why I feel him here,” she continued. “Everyone is so full of belief here and we jump over the barriers of our minds and we push ourselves to believe harder and to accept harder and to love harder here more than any place I’ve ever been. I feel him in the walls watching and guiding the young souls who come here who just need help believing. My brother told me once that belief in any form is so powerful that it creates our reality and the next reality that we’ll encounter, that believing in heaven and reincarnation is what makes it real. That particular belief of his gives me the most joy because he believed in everything so he is everywhere. I urge you, all of you to come here and find him when you need a light and when you need to believe.”
She also told PEOPLE, that it took her awhile to get to a place where she could move on following his suicide.
“It was rough in the beginning,” she said. “I had always struggled with alcohol, so that got really bad for awhile. But I’m coming up on three years sober and I really feel like it’s because of this and this place. Sawyer really showed me that you have to live your life. I think I was in a place where people thought it was going to be me and it wasn’t and that was really shocking. There was guilt. There was always guilt. Having everybody here, everybody that cares about him, it makes it easier to bare. I think ultimately I just eventually realized that he’s not here to live anymore and so that’s our job. Our job is to live for him. I’m living up to my potential. I’m not standing in the shadows.”
She added, “I feel if Sawyer had a place like this, and if a lot of young people had a place like this, that they wouldn’t feel lost and wouldn’t feel the need to take their lives like he did. I feel like it’s really a beacon for young people. I think it’s something he’d be proud of.”