By Lynette Rice
September 22, 2019 at 07:30 PM EDT

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Jussie Smollett had a place on the Emmy carpet for Taraji P. Henson, even if it was only in spirit.

While talking to the PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly Live Show, the Empire actress admitted that the set of the Fox show just isn’t the same without the actor, who is not returning to the drama this season.

“We miss Jussie. He’s family to us,” Henson says. “There’s no way we can throw five years of family away. So we miss him. Cookie certainly misses him, he was her favorite, he was the first one she visited when she got out of jail. But the show is gonna be incredible, stay tuned. Cookie’s finding herself. It’s not about the empire, it’s not about Lucious, it’s about her. I think a lot of women can relate to that. And the struggle between her and Lucious, it’ll rip your heart out!”

“We miss him immensely,” Henson recently told EW of her TV son, whom she’d “absolutely” love to see back. “As a mother in real life, as a mother in television, I lost one of my babies — and that hurts.”

Co-creator Lee Daniels has said the actor would not return to the show after becoming embroiled in controversy, the result of claiming he was the victim of a racial and homophobic attack that resulted in his eventual arrest. The charges were dropped but he still faces a lawsuit from the city of Chicago, where Empire is filmed.

At this summer’s TCA, Fox CEO Charlie Collier said Smollett’s absence will be explained by Jamal having moved back to London with his new husband.

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