AIDS activist Sean Sasser has died, several of his friends announced Wednesday night.
The activist and black, gay man whose face and spirit became a part of the MTV generation’s gay and AIDS awareness through his relationship with The Real World’s Pedro Zamora had been a prominent part of the San Francisco season of the MTV show, which aired in 1994. Zamora, who was HIV-positive, died shortly after the season ended.
Sasser moved to D.C. in recent years as a result of a job his current partner, Michael Kaplan, took running AIDS United, a nonprofit group aimed at “end[ing] the AIDS epidemic within the United States.”
Earlier this year, The Washington Blade talked with Sasser about his new job as the pastry chef at an area restaurant. Sasser’s aim: “I want to serve desserts and pastries that people recognize and love to eat, but sometimes with an unexpected twist of surprise.”
Dan Renzi — from The Real World’s year in Miami — wrote of Sasser’s death at Queerty:
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.
Of Sasser’s life and death, Renzi wrote:
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.