08/08/2013 03:02 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Sean Sasser, 'Real World' Star And AIDS Activist, Dead At 44

AIDS activist Sean Sasser, who shot to prominence in 1994 as the boyfriend of "Real World: San Francisco" housemate Pedro Zamora, has died at 44.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) confirmed news of Sasser's death on its website. Candace Gingrich-Jones calls the activist "powerful messenger who brought the reality of living with HIV/AIDS to living rooms across the country" and "down to earth, very passionate about his cause" in a poignant testimonial.

Queerty has more details on Sasser's death:

According to his life partner, Michael Kaplan, Sasser died of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs. No other information was released immediately about his medical condition, but mesothelioma has been linked to a weakened immune system in some people with AIDS.

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.

And perhaps his early death is a stark reminder that for many, HIV is still a disease, a lesson he undoubtedly would not want anyone to forget and be proud survives him.

In recent years, Sasser had been focusing on his work as a D.C.-based pastry chef and sharing his life with partner Michael Kaplan, according to the Washington Blade (Zamora, who tied the knot with Sasser in a commitment ceremony seen on "The Real World," died in 1994 after his season of the series aired).


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