AIDS Activist Sasser Dies of Mesothelioma


Sean Sasser, who first came to attention as the boyfriend of MTV star Pedro Zamora in 1994, has died of mesothelioma at the age of 44.

Sasser was not a full cast member of MTV’s popular The Real World: San Francisco but Zamora, one of the first openly-gay men on American television, was. Their televised marriage ceremony in 1994 became what CNN calls “a landmark moment in TV history”.  After Zamora died of AIDS a year later, Sasser went on to become an outspoken AIDS activist and a notable pastry chef.

Sasser himself had lived with AIDS for more than 25 years. He was diagnosed with Stage IV mesothelioma in June, following a blood test which revealed an “abnormality”.

Mesothelioma, a rare lung-related cancer with no known cure, is almost always associated with exposure to asbestos. There is no word as to where Sasser may have come in contact with asbestos or whether his AIDS, which was being managed with medication, may have contributed to the rapid progression of the illness.

Like other cancers, mesothelioma is diagnosed as one of four stages. Patients with Stage I mesothelioma are the most likely to receive a benefit from treatment. People like Sasser, diagnosed with Stage IV mesothelioma, are in the last and most advanced stage of the disease and have few treatment options. Sasser’s options may have been further limited by his AIDS, which weakens the body’s immune system.   Some mesothelioma centers are now using a two stage system that designates localized or advanced disease.

By the time mesothelioma has reached Stage IV or has become advanced, cancer cells have invaded the lymphatic system and have typically spread to multiple locations outside of the original tumor.  Severe chest pain and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms in Stage IV mesothelioma.


Duke, Alan, “Sean Sasser, whose ceremony with partner of ‘Real World’ was TV first, dies”, August 8 2013, CNN.com.
Messer, Lesley, “‘Real World’ Star Sean Sasser Dies”, August 8, 2013, ABC News online.

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