Sean Sasser, the man who, along with partner Pedro Zamora, changed the perception of gay people and humanized those HIV-positive, has died. He was 44.

According to the New York Times, Sasser died on Aug. 8 of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Back in 1994, Sasser took part in MTV’s reality show “The Real World San Francisco” as he was struggling to open a restaurant in the city and also wanted to publicize issues about AIDS. It was there that he met Pedro Zamora, a 22-year-old Cuban-American who was also HIV-positive and gay.

Their relationship became the focus of the season, culminating with a wedding ceremony performed at the Real World house. One day after the final episode of the show aired, Zamora died of  progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy, a rare and usually fatal viral inflammation of the brain.

More recently, Sasser had concentrated on baking. He was the pastry chef at Ris, a restaurant in Washington and was married to his husband, Michael Kaplan, the Times reports.

He is survived by his mother, Patricia, his sister, Staci White and his husband.

“I feel a connection or a closeness to Pedro,” Sasser said in his vows. “I know one thing for sure: I don’t want that to go away.