Sean Sasser from MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco” has died at the age of 44, his longtime partner said. Sasser, who had been HIV positive for 25 years, died Wednesday from mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer.
The reality star died in the Washington home he shared with Michael Kaplan. While he was not one of the original cast members on “The Real World,” he became a household name as his relationship with Pedro Zamora was explored during the show’s third season in 1994. The couple’s exchange of vows during a commitment ceremony, the first ever broadcast on U.S. television, became a landmark moment in TV history.
The couple began dating during the taping of the series. Their relationship and Zamora’s battle with AIDS while living in “The Real World” house with seven strangers became must-see-TV for teens and young adults, many of whom had never been exposed to a gay couple, much less someone living with HIV.
Zamora, who had been diagnosed with AIDS at age 17, was a well-known AIDS activist at the time he was cast on the show at age 21. Sasser, who was also working as an activist and educator, also revealed on the show that he was HIV positive.
During the taping of the series, Zamora’s health took a turn.
“This wasn’t a romantic death. It wasn’t a heroic death. It was horrible, and Sean couldn’t do anything except watch it happen,” fellow co-star Judd Winick told the online magazine POZ in 1997. Winick chronicled his friendship with Zamora and Sasser in the graphic novel “Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned.”
Zamora died on Nov. 11, 1994, with Sasser at his side just hours after the airing of the final episode of the season, which featured the two men exchanging their vows, according to MTV.
Sasser continued his work as an AIDS activist and educator.
Sasser recently moved from Portland, Oregon, to Washington when Kaplan took a job with AIDS United, a non-profit group. The couple had dated off and on for years since the 1990s, but moved in together about six years ago, Kaplan said.
His illness evolved quickly, with the July diagnosis of stage 4 mesothelioma following a June blood test showing an abnormality, Kaplan said.