AIDS activist Sean Sasser has died of mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer of the lungs, BuzzFeed reports. He was 44. Most recently, Sasser lived in Washington, DC, with his partner Michael Kaplan, president and CEO of AIDS United. He had been working as a pastry chef. Sasser first appeared in the celebrity spotlight in 1994 as the partner of the late Pedro Zamora, who starred in the MTV reality show The Real World. As people with HIV, Sasser and Zamora gave an early face to the epidemic for millions of people around the world. After Zamora’s death, Sasser continued for years to advocate on behalf of HIV-positive people.

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To read the 1997 POZ cover story about Sasser, click here.

To read a remembrance of Sasser by Shawn Decker, click here.