“From when I found out he was sick to his passing, it’s been incredibly quick. It’s so fresh, it’s incredibly hard to process,” Lopez told the outlet. “And it’s shocking because he was so young; he was only 44. I honestly thought, ‘There’s no way [he won’t make it]. It sucks, but he’ll bounce back.”
Lopez and Diamond previously starred on Saved by the Bell together — as well as The College Years spinoff of the popular series — where Lopez portrayed athlete A.C. Slater as Diamond played nerdy student Samuel “Screech” Powers.
Lopez was also among the first to react to the news of Diamond’s death on social media, sharing a photo of the two on Instagram. “Dustin, you will be missed my man. The fragility of this life is something never to be taken for granted. Prayers for your family will continue on…,” Lopez wrote.
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Diamond’s rep previously confirmed the news of his death to PEOPLE in a statement, saying his death was “due to carcinoma.”
“He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago,” the statement read. “In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”
RELATED VIDEO: Dustin Diamond Dead at 44 After Cancer Battle
While speaking with Variety, Lopez also recalled fond memories of starring opposite Diamond on Saved by the Bell.
“We shot a lot in the summer time, so it was a lot of juvenile, silly, fun antics stuff that we’d get into,” he said. “I thought he was a funny kid. I liked to have fun and he was like my side-kick.”
Noting that Diamond “was an integral part of the chemistry and the comedy” of the NBC series, Lopez added, “I don’t know if it would have worked without him.”
Now, moving forward, Lopez is hopeful that season two of the Saved by the Bell reboot will be able to pay tribute to Diamond, who did not reprise his role, though his character was referenced.
“We were really hoping he’d make an appearance on Season 2,” Lopez told Variety. “Now I’m really going to push for some sort of tribute. I would love a whole episode dedicated to some of his most iconic moments or something like that. We have a lot of very creative minds who can try to figure it out, but I haven’t had those conversations yet.”