Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Real World Cast Members Who You May Not Know Passed Away

In many ways, the 1992 premiere of MTV's "The Real World" was a landmark moment for American culture. The show helped popularize the reality TV genre that would become a staple of MTV and its competitors in the 2000s while giving a generation the idea that they might be famous if they were willing to find out what happened when they stopped being polite — and started getting real.

The show was not only a cultural touchstone but a defining feature of MTV's programming for over two decades. The show produced 32 seasons from 1992 to 2017 before finally coming off the air. While Season 33 was aired on Facebook Watch, it didn't quite catch on, and fans have been without their "The Real World" fix since 2019. Thankfully, MTV can't seem to stay away, as they announced plans to bring the show back to the air on Paramount+ in 2022, per Deadline.

Over the years, fans have seen some pretty incredible drama, like the infamous slap in "The Real World: Seattle" that TVLine called one of the craziest moments in reality TV. However, when a show runs for as long as "The Real World," with such a diverse cast of real people with real problems, tragedy is almost inevitable. Here are "The Real World" cast members that you may not have known have passed away.

Pedro Zamora helped educate the world about AIDS

While "The Real World" was a cultural force to be reckoned with since Season 1, it picked up steam in Season 3, which was titled "The Real World: San Francisco." At the center of that popularity was Pedro Zamora, the openly gay man whose conflict with housemate David "Puck" Rainey made the series must-watch television, who sadly passed away the same year he appeared on the show.

Zamora was a likable element of "The Real World: San Francisco," and was also the first individual featured on a reality TV show who was living with AIDS, via People. His appearance on the show is widely credited with helping establish "The Real World" as an MTV institution and expanding the conversation about HIV and AIDS in the United States.

Tragically, the disease took a turn for the worse almost immediately after the show finished taping, and just months later, Zamora died on November 11, 1994, of neurological complications caused by AIDS, per Entertainment Weekly. Before he passed, he was able to continue his mission to help open the conversation about AIDS by testifying before Congress regarding the disease and leaving a lasting impression on a generation.

Frankie Abernathy showed the strength of a woman living with cystic fibrosis

When the reality TV show traveled back to California in Season 14 with "The Real World: San Diego," it featured another cast member living with a deadly disease. Frankie Abernathy had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at an early age, and the challenges she faced daily formed a core part of her storyline.

Abernathy was a rebellious presence in the 2004 season of "The Real World: San Diego," whose signature piercing and tattoos and her love for punk rock culture contrasted with her love of Hello Kitty paraphernalia, per MTV. While Abernathy would eventually leave the house early after some conflicts with her roommates, she was fondly remembered by the cast members she did connect with. Jamie Chung recalled Abernathy as seeming "too cool for school" when she arrived before proving to be "the most caring person in the house."

Even though Abernathy didn't stay on the show until the season wrapped, she still helped raise the national profile for cystic fibrosis by giving a face to the illness, which is one of the most common early-onset hereditary diseases. The seriousness of the condition was only underscored when her health suddenly worsened a couple of years later before she died on June 9, 2007.

Joey Kovar struggled with addiction for much of his career

When the show returned to Los Angeles for a second time for the 2008 season "The Real World: Hollywood," it introduced the world to Joey Kovar, a personal trainer from Illinois whose struggles with addiction were documented across two reality TV shows.

Kovar arrived in "The Real World" house with a brash attitude that he attributed to his Chicago-area upbringing. He told the Chicago Tribune that his abrasive personality was the reason that he thought he was cast on the show, stating, "People want in-your-face, and that's what Chicagoans bring. The attitude we have is what's going to draw the ratings."

As the season progressed, his conflicts with fellow housemates and problems with substance abuse got to a point where he left to attend rehab, via MTV. While he was invited back after completing treatment, he worried about the possibility of relapse and declined. He would later appear on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" in 2009.

Sadly, Kovar was found dead in a friend's apartment in suburban Chicago on August 17, 2012. Both the media and Kovar's family speculated what could have caused the death of the 29-year-old, with some media outlets alleging that Kovar had died due to a lethal combination of drugs. Meanwhile, his family insisted that the death was not drug-related and that he had been sober for six months, per Hollywood Life. However, a toxicology report ultimately reported that this cause of death was "opiate intoxication."

Ryan Knight had his own struggles with substance abuse

The official introduction from MTV for "The Real World: New Orleans," which aired in 2010, described Ryan Knight as a former hockey player who was struggling with an addiction to painkillers following a shoulder injury that ended his career on the ice.

While those struggles would be a part of his identity during the show, he is perhaps better remembered for the tumultuous relationship he started with housemate Jemmye Carroll while filming "The Real World" and continued on the spinoff reality show "The Challenge." The two connected early on in "The Real World," forming a relationship by the third episode of the season. Knight would appear on three different seasons of "The Challenge," two of which he was either accompanied by or cast as an opponent of Carroll.

Sadly, Knight would never see his final appearance on "The Challenge" make it to air, as he was found dead at a friend's home in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on November 28, 2014, due to complications arising from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol, per The Hollywood Reporter. Despite their frequent clashes, Knight was remembered warmly by Carroll, who wrote a heartful tribute to Knight published by MTV on the anniversary of his death.