Stars From The Real World And Road Rules You Didn't Know Died

Long before "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" or "90 Day Fiancé" graced television screens, MTV brought reality TV into popular culture with seven strangers living together on "The Real World" when it premiered in 1992. It was what the network called a "reality-based soap opera" that helped pave the way for the reality television we know and either love or hate today. Just a few short years after "The Real World" led the charge, "Road Rules" premiered, taking the genre to new, globe-trotting heights. 

As both "The Real World" and "Road Rules" get a fresh take on streaming platform Paramount+, we're left wondering about former cast members. Throughout the years, both series have seen their fair share of memorable cast members and controversies, but sadly there are also some who have passed away since their time on the shows. These are the stars from "The Real World" and "Road Rules" you didn't know died. 

Frankie Abernathy was the punk rock roommate on The Real World: San Diego

Frankie Abernathy was one of the housemates on "The Real World: San Diego," which aired in 2004. From virtually the get-go, Abernathy said she didn't feel like she fit in with the rest of the housemates — and those feelings only escalated as Abernathy and the others continued to clash, particularly on a trip to Greece.

With her off-screen romance on the rocks and her relationships in the house suffering, Abernathy had enough and she decided to leave the show voluntarily. Upon leaving, Abernathy quipped, "I guess I'm a little too punk rock for that kind of stuff," but she revealed in the reunion show for MTV that her real reason for leaving the show wasn't that she didn't get along with or didn't like the other housemates, but that she didn't like herself. "I just couldn't stand what I was becoming," she said.

Frankie Abernathy passed away in 2007

Though much of the buzz around Frankie Abernathy at the time her "Real World" season aired was about her departure from San Diego, she also raised awareness for cystic fibrosis during her time on the show. Abernathy was diagnosed with the disease at 3 years old, but according to her "Real World" bio, she'd been doing okay for the most part in the years leading up to the show. A few years later, however, her health began to decline. 

Just three years after the airing of "The Real World: San Diego," Abernathy passed away in 2007 at the age of 25, per the Los Angeles Times. Her mother, Abbie Hunter, told MTV that despite Abernathy's long illness, her death was unexpected. "She was doing fine, and we really don't know very much yet," she said at the time. "It still was kind of a shock, and it just wasn't how we figured things would go. It seems like her little body just gave out."

Michelle Parma was a former cheerleader who starred in Road Rules: Europe

While the first two seasons of "Road Rules" took place in the United States, the third season of "Road Rules" changed the game by taking place across Europe. One of the five Season 3 cast members, and one of only two Americans, was former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Michelle Parma, who was reportedly chosen for the show because of her sense of humor and energy. After traveling all around Europe, having adventures like running with the bulls and setting off fireworks for Bastille Day on "Road Rules," Parma moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, though she eventually moved back to Texas to become a flight attendant for Southwest, according to MTV.

In 2001, four years after Parma returned from "Road Rules: Europe" and started building her career outside of entertainment, she appeared on (though didn't win) "Real World/Road Rules: Extreme Challenge," the fourth season of the MTV show ultimately titled "The Challenge." 

Michelle Parma was killed in a crash in 2002

Just a year after Michelle Parma's appearance in "Real World/Road Rules: Extreme Challenge" aired, MTV reported she was in a serious car accident as she and her cousin Mandie traveled from Dallas to Houston. The vehicle in which she and her cousin were traveling was struck head-on by an out-of-control driver, then spun and was struck by a second vehicle, according to MTV. While the drivers of the other vehicles reportedly only suffered minor injuries, both Parma and her cousin were killed.

MTV also published a statement from the creators and executive producers of "Road Rules," Jonathan Murray and Mary-Ellis Bunim. "Michelle had a spirit about her that just pulled you in," they said in the statement. "She was one of the nicest, most genuine people to ever be on one of our reality shows. We will all miss her terribly."

Joey Kovar entered rehab while on The Real World: Hollywood

Joey Kovar, a personal trainer with dreams of becoming an actor, was cast as a roommate in "The Real World: Hollywood" in 2008. Though Kovar had spoken of his alcohol abuse as a past issue, the pressures of the house quickly exacerbated his intake. In the fourth episode, Kovar entered a 30-day rehab; he returned in the eighth episode with hopes that his addiction was behind him.

Ultimately, Kovar left "The Real World" after returning from rehab because he felt like he wasn't getting the support he needed from his roommates. He told Us Weekly at the time, "All the roommates had promised, 'Oh we're gonna change if you come back' [from a stint in rehab]. It was just a bunch of b.s. 'cause nothing changed."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Joey Kovar passed away in 2012

In 2009, after the birth of his daughter, Kovar was cast on "Celebrity Rehab 3" to tackle his addictions once more. At the end of the season, he said (via the LA Times), "I'm not going to make any false... promises... I'm not going to tell you. 'I'm going to be sober', 'cause I don't know." 

In 2012, Joey Kovar passed away suddenly at a friend's house despite what his family believed to be his ongoing commitment to sobriety. His brother David told People, "Joe's final days were peaceful. He had become such a happy person. I had not once worried that he was using again. I'm still very unsure of what exactly happened. I try not to think about it because I feel like it will eat me alive if I do."

According to People, the autopsy that was performed after Kovar's death was inconclusive, so toxicology tests were ordered. Kovar's death was ultimately ruled an accident due to opiate intoxication, according to TMZ

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Pedro Zamora and Sean Sasser made history on The Real World: San Francisco

When Pedro Zamora was cast in "The Real World: San Francisco," The New York Times noted that he'd already been sharing his story since he was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. When "The Real World: San Francisco" aired, it was 1994 and Zamora was the first cast member openly living with AIDS. Through his interactions with his "Real World" roommates, Zamora helped confront the stigma against people living with AIDS.

While on the show, Zamora began dating Sean Sasser, who he'd met at the 1993 Lesbian and Gay March on Washington. Though not an official cast member of "The Real World," Sasser became a star of the show through his relationship with Zamora, which became a large focus over the course of the season. According to People, the pair made television history when their commitment ceremony was the first same-sex ceremony to be aired on television.

Pedro Zamora died shortly after The Real World in 1994

Just hours after the season finale of "The Real World: San Francisco" aired, Pedro Zamora passed away due to complications from AIDS. According to The New York Times, in the time period shortly before his death, Zamora had been diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder, progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, which causes a quick decline in neurological functioning.  

According to the AV Club, just prior to Zamora's death, then-President Bill Clinton called to check on him and to thank him for his selfless work. Upon Zamora's death, President Clinton released a statement (via the U.S. Government Publishing Office) reading in part, "In his short life, Pedro educated and enlightened our nation. He taught all of us that AIDS is a disease with a human face and one that affects every American, indeed every citizen, of the world. And he taught people living with AIDS how to fight for their rights and live with dignity."

Sean Sasser passed away in 2013

After Pedro Zamora's death, Sean Sasser continued working as an AIDS activist and educator and dated fellow activist Michael Kaplan throughout the '90s, according to CNN. By the mid-2000s, Sasser had moved from Oregon to Washington, where he began working as a pastry chef at the restaurant RIS and lived with his partner Kaplan.

In June 2013, Sasser had an abnormal blood test that led to a diagnosis of stage 4 mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, Kaplan told CNN. The progression of his illness was quick. Kaplan revealed that Sasser was unable to work for the last five weeks of his life and spent his final week at home in bed. In August 2013, Sasser's friend Judd Winick posted on Twitter that Sasser had died, writing, "Our friend Sean Sasser has died. Our love goes out to his family & husband Michael. We will miss u [sic] so much."

Ryan Knight joined The Real World: New Orleans to escape his demons

Former hockey player Ryan Knight, who preferred to be called "Knight" while on the show, joined the cast of "The Real World: New Orleans" in 2010 in an attempt to get away from the negative influences in his hometown, according to his MTV bio. Knight, who had become addicted to painkillers after a shoulder injury, was six months sober when he joined "The Real World." His past drug use and his turbulent relationship with his fellow New Orleans roommate and off-and-on girlfriend Jemmye Carroll were explored throughout the season.

After "The Real World," Knight and Carroll initially stayed together in New Orleans, but their relationship continued to be intermittent. Knight appeared on several seasons of "The Challenge" alongside Carroll, including "Battle of the Seasons" in 2012, "Rivals II" in 2013, and "Battle of the Exes II" in 2015 (posthumously).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Ryan Knight passed away in 2014

On Thanksgiving morning in 2014, the Kenosha, Wisconsin police released a statement that they'd received a medical call about a 28-year-old male found unconscious and not breathing at a local house, CNN reported at the time. Ryan Knight passed away at the scene with no visible injuries, but CNN noted that toxicology results were still pending.

According to TMZ, the Kenosha County medical examiner ultimately determined that Knight had multiple drugs in his system, including methadone, tramadol, cocaine, and Xanax, along with a high level of alcohol. His death was ruled an accidental overdose.

Upon learning of his death, Knight's former "The Real World: New Orleans" roommate and off-and-on girlfriend Jemmye Carroll tweeted, "Words will never be enough to justify the connection we shared and the pain I will forever feel."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Danny Dias was one of the original competitors on Road Rules: X-Treme

Danny Dias joined Season 13 of "Road Rules," which was called "Road Rules: X-Treme" and was filmed in Argentina and Chile, while he was in college in 2004. As an openly gay cast member, Dias' sexuality and some of his fellow cast members' perceived intolerance and homophobia were focal points in the early episodes of the season. After a couple of failed missions — in part due to Dias' performance — he was voted out in the sixth episode and replaced by Nick Haggart.

Dias later appeared on "Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet 2" beginning in late 2005 and was eliminated after the fourth episode, per Deadline. According to People (citing Dias' since-deleted LinkedIn profile), after his time appearing on reality television, Dias shifted gears somewhat and worked in finance, co-founded an AIDS research charity called Generation Cure, and studied acting while living in New York City.

Danny Dias passed away in 2017

In 2017, Danny Dias was found unresponsive in his apartment and pronounced dead on the scene, with a source telling People that he was found with hallucinogenic drugs all around him and lacerations on his wrists. 

TMZ later broke the news that while the lacerations on what turned out to be Dias' forearms were recent, they weren't the cause of his death, nor were the hallucinogenic drugs he was found with. The medical examiner found that Dias died of natural causes, as a result of his years of substance abuse. According to the medical examiner's report, he did not have a substantial amount of any substance in his system at the time of his death.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Brian Lancaster compared Road Rules: Latin America to winning the lottery

Brian Lancaster was 23 years old when he joined the cast of "Road Rules: Latin America" in 1999. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Lancaster said at the time that being cast on the show was "pretty much like winning the lottery." He reportedly got his big break when he was working as a server at a Chinese restaurant in Denver while he was studying at the University of Colorado. Lancaster was scouted by a producer who happened to be eating at the restaurant. He made it through all 13 missions across 15 episodes, winning a Volkswagen Beetle along with his fellow contestants. 

After his time on "Road Rules: Latin America," Lancaster reportedly worked over the years as a telecommunications project manager, a special education teacher, an advertising account manager, and a bartender, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Brian Lancaster passed away in 2018

Brian Lancaster was found dead in his Phoenixville, Pennsylvania home in March 2018 at 43 years old, People confirmed. His family told TMZ at the time of his death that he had a history of arrhythmia and they suspected his death was the result of heart failure. 

Two months later, Radar Online broke the news that Lancaster's cause of death was revealed to be an accidental overdose of fentanyl, heroin, and alcohol. Coroner Dr. Christina VandePol told Radar, "While some progress is being made in the battle against substance abuse, we continue to lose too many members of our community to this epidemic. Speaking with families like Mr. Lancaster's, I hear so often about how difficult it is to fight addiction and about how we are losing talented and loved people to this disease."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).