In a television first, Sean Sasser and Real World cast member Pedro Zamora married during the season finale in 1994. Just a few hours later, Sasser watched his husband and loved one pass, succumbing to AIDS. The couple had come together on the show and shared their thoughts together as both were diagnosed with HIV in their teens. After the loss of his partner, Sasser became an AIDS activist. Sasser, 44, died from mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lungs, reported today.
In 1994 history hit television when MTV’s Real World: San Francisco captured the budding love of two homosexual, minority males. A move unseen prior to that time on a prime-time television network that neither was scripted or faked. The two men connected on a very real and deep level. The two men had been living with HIV for several years prior to meeting one another. After Sasser said good-bye to his husband, being there with him every step of the way, until his final breath, he vowed to make a difference in the world.
The couple married on the season finale of the popular show, bringing together a hush across the country which had been stigmatized about same-sex relationships. The men shared a tangible bond that showed Sasser’s love for Zamora. Shortly, after the death of his partner, Sasser stated he why Zamora appeared on the popular MTV show:
I think Pedro had a grand scheme for the whole thing and what the impact might be. That was why he was so adamant about doing it and staying in front of the cameras as much as possible. While it was happening, we had no idea what MTV would use and how far they would go in portraying the stuff that we let them see … positively, or even accurately. So, pretty much, it was like, ‘Let’s wait and see what happens.’ And as the show started airing, we were like ‘Wow, this turned out pretty nice
For years, Sasser remained in the closet, too scared of rejection to escape. After the passing of his husband, he vowed to make a change. He connected with the AIDS Policy Center for Children, Youth and Families and together they teamed on speaking engagements and working with families and individuals for bravery and coming together to share their fears and resolve.
While the men connected again in the hit Real World show, it was Zamora who was a featured heartthrob. The men originally connected in 1993 at a march in Washington D.C. for equal rights. Zamora reach out to his friend when he was listed to appear on the show. The men connected and love progressed from friendship. A connection that broke Sasser’s heart after the new love he found, died.
“It had a very large effect on me. I never lost someone so close to me,” Sean said. “And it also had a very large impact on how I feel about my life. It made me realize I really hadn’t dealt with mortality or death and dying. And because the bond we had was such a unique wonderful experience, I was at a loss for how to deal with losing him so soon.”
Throughout his years until his death Sasser remained an AIDS activist and educator. He meet future husband Michael Kaplan in the late 90s but the two did not become serious until six years ago. Kaplan stated Sasser was just diagnosed with mesothelioma last month, showing a diagnosis of rapid advancement. Sean Sasser broke barriers as gay man on television, marrying openly and sharing his love, his life and bravery. He died as a legend, as a person who changed the way of television and life for thousands of individuals in the gay community. Many can agree with MTV who tweeted today, “RIP to a member of the MTV family, groundbreaking Real World star + AIDS activist.”
Sources 1, 2