AIDS activist and educator Sean Sasser has died, according to an announcement Wednesday evening by longtime friends.
According to his longtime partner, AIDS United President and CEO Michal Kaplan, Sasser died from mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs.
Sasser, 44, first gained national attention when he began an on-screen relationship with Pedro Zamora on MTV’s “The Real World” in San Francisco in 1994.
Sasser proposed to Zamora, and the two exchanged vows in a commitment ceremony in the show’s San Francisco loft. The couple were not only among the first openly gay men on reality television, but the first to be openly HIV-positive.
Zamora died shortly after the season ended.
Their relationship was nominated for “Favorite Love Story” at the 2008 Real World Awards event.
“Sasser may not be familiar to people who did not see his episodes of The Real World, and he did not live his life in the limelight after the show,” wrote Dan Renzi for Queerty.
“But his one brief turn in front of the cameras was enough to make a major impact. Long before Ellen or Will & Grace showcased gay people on TV living mainstream lives, and before the magic of protease inhibitor ‘cocktails’ turned HIV into a manageable disease, Sasser gave a brave face to both issues and brought those taboo topics to educate millions of young Americans.”
In the years following “The Real World,” Sasser continued his AIDS activism, working to educate youth on HIV prevention and bring visibility to the disease that still knows no cure.
He and Kaplan recently moved to Washington D.C., where Sasser also worked as a pastry chef.
Following is “The Real World” episode in which Sasser and Zamora marry: