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'Real World' AIDS activist Sean Sasser dies at 44
August 8, 2013 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Sean Sasser – perhaps best known as Pedro Zamora's love interest on the Real World: San Franciscopassed away from mesothelioma. He was 44.

Long before marriage equality became reality, Sasser and Zamora married on the show. Zamora died the day after the season finale aired.

Earlier this year, Sasser became the pastry chef at the upscale RIS Cafe in Washington, DC. He is survived by his partner Michael Kaplan, who broke the news via Sasser's Facebook account.
posted by fredosan (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
oh, so sad. I was a teenager when Pedro died and it was shattering.
posted by sweetkid at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aw. Damn it.

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posted by mykescipark at 8:10 AM on August 8, 2013


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posted by skycrashesdown at 8:12 AM on August 8, 2013


Asbestos?
posted by leotrotsky at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aw, that's a shame. If memory served, Pedro was positive but he wasn't, right? He was so young.

On a less awful side note, that might have been the last season of Real World I could pay attention to. I accidentally caught a bit of it at a friends house, and I was struck by how terrible it was. Mostly just petty internecine conflict about random shitty hookups while drinking too much. In the first few seasons that show actually seemed sort of relevant and perhaps even important. Now? Just another opportunity for people to demonstrate lowest common denominator behavior.
posted by nevercalm at 8:19 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:21 AM on August 8, 2013


Mesothelioma?
posted by notyou at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2013


leotrotsky: "Asbestos?"

Mesothelioma related to immune system weakening possibly due to AIDS/ HIV according the "passed away" article in an oblique fashion.

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posted by boo_radley at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Asbestos?

Mesothelioma has been linked to a weakened immune system in some people with AIDS actually.

It's almost hard to remember, in this age of many reality shows and most of them having at least one token gay guy, what a BIG FUCKING DEAL he and Pedro were.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2013 [23 favorites]


Aw, that's a shame. If memory served, Pedro was positive but he wasn't, right? He was so young.

Per the Facebook announcement, Sasser had been HIV positive for 25 years.

Rest well.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


He and Pedro did a lot of good for the world.

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posted by BlahLaLa at 8:26 AM on August 8, 2013


when the hell was he exposed to asbestos to die of meso so young? its got a latency/incubation period of 20-40 years...very sad

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posted by supermedusa at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2013


Yea I think San Francisco was season 3 and the last really good one. I liked the London one just because I was a big Anglophile at the time, but I think the producers realized it got kinda boring because the Americans couldn't work and everyone was generally well behaved and didn't even act on their unrequited crushes so that's why they introduced the "seven strangers get to know each other AND run a business" and also lots of mental problems and alcohol.
posted by sweetkid at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


ok, I'd never heard about the non-asbestos related AIDS incidences of meso. ugh. its a terrible disease regardless.
posted by supermedusa at 8:29 AM on August 8, 2013


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I believe Sean was positive even back then.

I had just looked him up recently and was really glad to see he was doing well.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2013


i was just talking about pedro yesterday. his story was so important and i'm so personally thankful for him/them. it took quite a lot of gumption and bravery to do what they did when they did it.
posted by nadawi at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was just reminded of that show a few weeks ago by a headline that Puck had been arrested for domestic violence.

Season 1 conceptualized reality television, and season 2's cast had the lightbulb of voting someone out. But season 3 was cultural and immediate. It put AIDS and homosexuality on television and in front of kids, in a way that nobody else had thought to try. Whatever swill and poison MTV has dumped on American youth in the years since, those twenty episodes were a real contribution. It was important and good.

I also wonder how many girls might have avoided, or extricated themselves from abusive relationships after watching Rachel, Puck, and Jo.
posted by cribcage at 8:38 AM on August 8, 2013 [13 favorites]


Puck was so horrible.
posted by sweetkid at 8:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by Gelatin at 8:45 AM on August 8, 2013


my conversation about pedro was actually also about puck (who is not just an asshole domestic abuser, but also almost killed his kid while driving drunk).

i was discussing the new super racist season of big brother usa and saying that the casting people and the show and the network are just as, if not more culpable than the idiots who can't seem to remember (or care) that the cameras are rolling. same goes for mtv and puck - they knew who they were putting in the house. no one on mtv's side had a right to be surprised how that went - they put him in there to get that footage.

but...now thinking of it in a pedro focused way - that drive for drama is probably why they put pedro in the house too. while i (and a lot of other people) thank mtv for it, their intention was probably not really to educate, but to get the friction for good tv. i guess they probably still had a heart somewhere in there since they let pedro and sean have unfilmed dates (or they knew there was only so much they could get away with showing). but - pedro (and sean and most of the housemates) was so focused on education and informing that it was able to shine through a be a big part of the season.
posted by nadawi at 8:46 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those first seasons of The Real World were fantastic. It sounds bizarre to say considering the state of reality television today, but back then that show brought issues home, made things relatable and provided some semblance of a script to talk about things with the people around me.

Pedro and Sean were especially memorable to me as amazingly kind, patient souls who exemplified the values of love and marriage. They will be missed.

..
posted by iamkimiam at 8:49 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, that's so sad. I remember when I was a viewer of that season...how hard it struck me when Pedro repeatedly got sick, and how awful many of his roommates, who were being filmed being awful to a critically ill human being, could be.
posted by xingcat at 8:49 AM on August 8, 2013


Watching that season of Real World, I remember how grown up Sean and Pedro (and Pam and Judd) seemed. Looking back, almost twenty years later, oh my goodness they were just babies!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


i forget some of the particulars of the rest of the cast, but besides puck (and sometimes rachel giggling along to his shithead antics), i remember the cast being overwhelmingly kind and supportive - specifically judd and pam who were with him when he died (also judd wrote a comic about their friendship, and took up some of pedro's commitments when he was too sick there at the end).
posted by nadawi at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Judd and Pam were so awesome. And they got married.
posted by sweetkid at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


> It's almost hard to remember, in this age of many reality shows and most of them having at least one token gay guy, what a BIG FUCKING DEAL he and Pedro were.

Yes. If you are of a Certain Age, and if you are queer, that season of the show was groundbreaking in a way that's hard to articulate.


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posted by rtha at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't watch the show, but I did pick up a copy of Pedro and Me when it was published. Guess it's time for a reread.
posted by rewil at 9:33 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013


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Way too young. But brave, both he and Pedro. And yeah - Puck was / is a colossal asshole.
posted by yoga at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2013


Sean and Pedro came from an era of "reality TV" before it became a bizarre career path for narcissists. The people in those early seasons rarely became "personalities" and mostly made only token later appearances on other shows.

Casting Pedro Zamora was a pretty provocative move at that point. I was impressed by it. As bad as Puck's shenanigans were (nobody yet knew his would be the style that defined later reality TV), Pedro's effect on his housemates was the thing that I remember most about that year.

It's also, not coincidentally, the last year I really paid any attention to on a regular basis.

Fun fact: Dave Eggers has a cameo. He was friends with Judd, apparently, and includes his passage through the house in _A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius_.
posted by uberchet at 10:29 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: Dave Eggers has a cameo. He was friends with Judd, apparently, and includes his passage through the house in _A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius_.

wha crazy!
posted by sweetkid at 10:35 AM on August 8, 2013


Dave Eggers was up for one of the slots as cast in the house, if memory serves. But yeah, as mentioned, there's a bunch of backstory in Heartbreaking Work.
posted by nevercalm at 10:41 AM on August 8, 2013


I totally read that but don't remember him talking about the Real World. Then again I don't remember much besides how heavy that book was (emotionally not like, physically)
posted by sweetkid at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:45 AM on August 8, 2013


Wow. I was just talking about Pedro and Sean and that season of The Real World last week with a friend -- that season originally aired during the summer before my junior year of high school, and I remember the cast seemed so adult. Not necessarily mature, but grown up in a way I definitely did not feel even remotely close to being*. Pedro was definitely a standout for me in that cast, not only because he was so very mature, but because he was really the first gay adult that I "knew". And his relationship with Sean was most definitely the first time I'd ever seen a gay couple on TV. I grew up in a liberal family in a liberal area and considered myself to be gay-friendly by that point, but still... seeing a relationship between two men and realizing there was really nothing at all about it, or about them, that was any different from the hetero relationships I was used to seeing, was a big deal.

I'd just looked Sean up a few weeks ago and was glad to see he was still around. So this was jarring news. Big huge . for him.

*it's really weird to look up the ages of the Real World cast members for that season and see that they were only 4-8 years older than me when that season aired. Aside from Puck and Rachel, they all seemed really grown-up. Even Cory, who was only 20. And they still seem way more mature than the goobers they put on the shows these days. Ugh.
posted by palomar at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating to see all the responses to this news here. So much has changed in 20 years that it's hard to recall what a big deal it was for two openly gay men -- let alone two openly gay men with HIV -- to be prominent parts of a hit network show. I don't remember anything else about that show but I remember their bravery and grace among the chaos of the series. I was living in SF at the time and it all seemed so bizarre and manufactured -- these kids tossed together in a house on Lombard Street and followed with cameras all day and night -- yet their presence helped make it something more than just a circus.
posted by blucevalo at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2013


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I quit watching RW after the Boston season when I realized the cast was picked because the producers wanted fighting.

Pam is my age and also grew up in North Hollywood, but I didn't know her( I went to a magnet school after 7th grade).
posted by brujita at 11:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


The NHHS yearbook from my year is available through print on demand and she was friends with several of my classmates from grammar school.
posted by brujita at 11:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


judd is posting some pictures and thoughts over at twitter.
posted by nadawi at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This will always be the iconic image of Sean for me -- Annie Liebovitz' photo of him. He was a friend back in the day -- one of my housemates officiated his wedding to Pedro. After years of working in HIV services, he really wanted to go back to an earlier career goal, derailed by HIV, and become a pastry chef, which he did, very successfully.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]




judd is posting some pictures and thoughts over at twitter.

Warning those pictures and thoughts might make you cry.
posted by sweetkid at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This (also posted in Judd's twitter as well I think) was lovely and spot on.

Never Forgetting Sean Sasser, 1968-2013
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:22 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


On a lighter note, man Judd is just still such a good egg. Also I love this.

And just squee forever he and Pam got married and have kids and he makes awesome signs for his kids.
posted by sweetkid at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2013


Judd was fine on the show, and he's probably a good guy. But he writes comics terribly and with terrible ideas and should stop.
posted by cribcage at 12:34 PM on August 8, 2013


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I was knee deep in HIV by the time TRW with Pedro aired. It caused a huge stir in the communities I frequented because Pedro was going on TV and living with HIV rather than dying of AIDS. It was such a contrast from the Rock Hudson ---> Magic Johnson ----> Eazy E progression of dead, dying (or so we all thought), dead.

Also Brujita. I went to Porter Magnet for jr. high... You?
posted by Sophie1 at 12:46 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was in undergrad, I was chair of the Speakers Bureau for the college board. We always had a boatload of money to spend bringing speakers to campus (or, it seemed that way at the time - I think my annual budget was $10,000 or something) but it was hard to get speakers down to rural Illinois, 4 hours southwest of Chicago.

We did book Sean, though. This would've been 1995 or 1996, and we co-hosted the event with the AIDS activism group on campus. I think Pedro had died about a year earlier and Sean was doing a tour, talking about his experiences as an AIDS activist and tying it to The Real World. I was pretty excited we got him.

I was also surprised at how much of a shit storm it started on campus and in the community. I genuinely didn't imagine and still have a hard time dealing with some of the awful homophobic shit that got said about Sean and Pedro and people facing HIV and AIDS. It was terrible.

Sean, on the other hand, was awesome and delightful and a cool hang. I picked him up at the Peoria Airport and told him about the letters and phone calls I'd been getting about his visit and that I wasn't sure the speaking gig itself wouldn't be terrible. He was calm and cool and actually just waived it off, saying that it happened pretty frequently when he was out doing speaking gigs.

He did a great job talking to a packed auditorium. He told stories about The Real World. He told us about his love for and life with Pedro. He took questions about HIV and AIDS and answered honestly and thoughtfully and courageously. It was pretty special. I was worried there'd be hecklers, but most of the questions were either real questions about AIDS or awkward questions about The Real World.

After the gig, we went to dinner and to see a band play in a bar and he was just cool, signing autographs but being generally reserved.

He was a special man and a powerful voice for the movement. I met him when I needed that leadership. I'm sad he's gone.

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posted by elmer benson at 12:49 PM on August 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


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posted by Elly Vortex at 1:12 PM on August 8, 2013


Sophie1, I had 7th grade at Reed and then I went to SOCES.
posted by brujita at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by cman at 10:10 PM on August 8, 2013


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posted by stoneweaver at 3:57 PM on August 9, 2013


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