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Over the years, MTV has been at the forefront of the reality TV craze and as such has spawned numerous shows which have lifted otherwise ordinary people into the spotlight. Unfortunately, quite a few of those ordinary people turned MTV stars have met untimely deaths under truly tragic circumstances. This list takes a look back at 14 MTV reality stars who were lost far too soon:
Christopher “Big Black” Boykin was only 45 years old when he passed away on May 9, 2017. The TV personality was best known for his longtime friendship with MTV’s Rob Dyrdek which led to the pair’s show Rob & Big. After the series came to an end, Boykin made many more appearances on MTV on Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory as well as Ridiculousness. Prior to his surprising death, Boykin was hospitalized in order to monitor his heart, and while an official cause of death was not revealed, his death was widely reported to be due to a heart attack.
Danny Dias made his first appearance on MTV in 2004 when he appeared on season 13 of Road Rules, Road Rules: X-Treme. He went on to become a well-known MTV personality after he appeared on Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet 2 which was the 11th season of MTV’s The Challenge. On June 4, 2017, the 34-year-old was found dead after police received a call about a man in need of assistance. Although Dias was found with lacerations on his wrist, the medical examiner determined he had died from natural causes brought on by years of drug abuse.
Clay Adler was hoping that it was only the beginning of his career in the entertainment industry when he joined the cast of MTV’s Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County in 2007. Unfortunately, the series was short-lived and Adler never got his big break. Nine years after the series came to an end, Adler tragically died at the age of 27 after committing suicide while out with some friends. Reports indicated Adler and his friends went in the desert to shoot guns and suddenly Adler turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the head. After being rushed to the hospital, Adler survived for one more day before succumbing to his injuries on March 26, 2017.
Ryan Dunn had a lot of talents and he quickly rose to fame on MTV as one of the original members of Jackass, and also appeared on Viva La Bam. Unfortunately, Dunn died at the age of 34 in 2011 after the Porsche he was driving veered off the road and burst into flames killing not only Dunn but also 30-year-old Jackass Number Two production assistant Zachary Hartwell in Pennsylvania. A toxicology report revealed that Dunn had more than twice the state’s legal limit of alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.
Pedro Zamora is one of MTV’s biggest legends after he appeared on only the third season of The Real World for The Real World: San Francisco in 1993. Zamora used his platform on the show to try to break taboos and tackle issues of prejudice concerning the LGBT community and also worked to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. He is credited with personalizing those living with HIV, but sadly Zamora died on November 11, 1994, at the age of 22 due to complications of AIDS, passing away only hours after the season finale of his season of The Real World aired.
Another Real World alum was lost on June 9, 2007, with the death of The Real World: San Diego castmate Frankie Abernathy. On the series, Abernathy was known for her love of punk rock, and partying, but also for her lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. Although she left the season before it ended, she is known for helping to raise awareness for cystic fibrosis and those living with it. She died at the age of 25 due to complications from the disease.
Sean Sasser was another castmate of The Real World: San Francisco. He began dating Pedro Zamora when they began living together on the show. Their relationship was one of the first between two men portrayed on reality TV and the pair even had a commitment ceremony on the show. After being HIV-positive for 25 years, and losing Zamora in 1994, Sasser was diagnosed with mesothelioma which is a rare cancer of the lungs in 2013. Only one month later on August 7, 2013, Sasser passed away at the age of 44.
MTV lost another star in October of 2015 after Sam Sarpong committed suicide at the age of 40 after he jumped off a bridge in Pasadena, California. Sarpong was best known as the co-host of the short-lived MTV series Yo Momma alongside actor Wilmer Valderrama. According to reports, emergency responders were called after a man was seen standing on the outside of the bridge railing and tried talking him down for several hours before he ultimately jumped. After Sarpong’s death, Valderrama stated, “I am so sad and so confused. Sam did it all, believed in dreaming bigger than anyone around him.. We made memories together that will last us forever, thank you for sharing your talent with me and the world.. Find your peace my brother! And to everyone in a dark place.. PLEASE, please talk to someone.. Anyone.. Trust me that we WILL listen.”
Joey Kovar quickly made his presence known on The Real World’s 20th season with The Real: Hollywood in 2009. During his time on the series, he openly talked about his drug use and partying and went on to appear on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew to be treated for his addictions to alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamines, and steroids. Kovar admitted at the end of the season that he wasn’t sure he could be sober and on August 17, 2012, he died from opiate intoxication at the age of 29. Kovar was found with blood coming out of his nose and ears in an apartment in Illinois and was pronounced dead at the scene, leaving behind a son and a daughter.
Erik Roner was well known as a regular on the hit MTV series Nitro Circus before his untimely death on September 28, 2015, at the age of 39. As a daredevil and stunt performer, Roner was skydiving and attempting to land on a golf course as part of the entertainment for a celebrity golf event. Unfortunately, something went wrong and Roner ended up crashing into a tree. Although he was seriously injured in the crash, he was still alive and several witnesses attempted to climb the tree to free Roner who was tangled up 30 feet above the ground. By the time emergency crews got to the scene Roner had already died and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ryan Knight was one of the most popular and expressive Real World stars of recent years after he appeared on The Real World: New Orleans. He went on to also appear on MTV’s The Challenge, and although he was open about his battle with an addiction to pain medication, he had overcome it. Knight tragically passed on Thanksgiving morning of 2014 at the age of 29 after a night of partying with friends. The final autopsy report ruled Knight’s death an accidental overdose caused by a fatal mix of different drugs and alcohol. Only two days before his death, he tweeted, “Have the type of life, that when you die no one will dare say, ‘he left us for a better place.'”
MTV had another hit on their hands when they debuted Buckwild in 2013. The show featured the lives of nine young adults living in the rural area of West Virginia, making fun of their own way as country kids. One of the quick stars was fun-loving Shain Gandee, and a second season was in the works until Gandee was found dead in April 2013 at the age of 21. Gandee along with his uncle and a friend were first reported missing after they hadn’t been seen since leaving a bar more than a day before they were found. The three men had been out mudding in Gandee’s truck when the vehicle became submerged and stuck in the mud. All three men’s deaths were ruled an accident caused by carbon monoxide poisoning after the fumes filled the truck while the exhaust was submerged in mud.
Diem Brown was one of MTV’s biggest stars after appearing on Road Rules and multiple seasons of The Challenge. Brown was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the mid-2000s but beat it and continued competing on the reality show, but after six years of remission, she was once again diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June 2012. After another courageous battle, the cancer again went into remission and again returned to The Challenge and competed in Battle of the Exes II in June 2014, but had to be rushed to the hospital and leave the show after collapsing. Sadly, her cancer had metastasized to her colon and stomach and Brown eventually succumbed to cancer on November 14, 2014, at the age of 34.
In late 2016, MTV lost yet another star at a young age when former 16 and Pregnant star Valerie Fairman was found dead on Wednesday, December 21, 2016, at the age of 23. The young star rose to fame after appearing on the series’ second season, but things quickly spiralled downward after the spotlight faded and her battle with substance abuse was well documented as were her numerous run-ins with the law. Fairman was found unresponsive in a friend’s bathroom and died from an apparent overdose.