Several media outlets today are reporting that AIDS activist Sean Sasser has died at age 44. He is best known as then-boyfriend of Pedro Zamora on MTV’s “Real World: San Francisco.” Zamora died of AIDS shortly after the season wrapped in 1994. Zamora and Sasser exchanged vows in a commitment ceremony, the first ever broadcast on U.S. TV.
Queerty cited Sasser’s partner Michael Kaplan, who said Sasser died of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs. Citing an interview with Kaplan, CNN reported that Sasser had been HIV positive for 25 years but developed cancer this summer after a June blood test showed an abnormality.
Sasser resurfaced this year in Washington having become a pastry chef at RIS, an upscale cafe on L Street. The Blade interviewed him here in May. He had been unable to work the last five weeks, Kaplan told CNN. He spent the last week in bed at home where he died, his partner said. The two had dated off and on since the ’90s and lived together about six years, Kaplan told CNN. They moved here from Portland when Kaplan took a job with AIDS United, a non-profit group.
Sasser was not one of the original “Real World: San Francisco” cast members but became a household name as his relationship with Zamora was explored during the show’s third season in 1994. It’s remembered as a major turning point for gay visibility. For many straight fans of the show, it was the first time they’d seen a gay couple, much less one affected by AIDS in the days before anti-retroviral therapy became widely available in 1996.