Sean Sasser, an AIDS activist and chef whose romance with Pedro Zamora on the reality show “The Real World” in 1994 was among the first real-life gay relationships on television, died on Wednesday at his home in Washington. He was 44.
The cause was mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, his husband, Michael Kaplan, said.
Mr. Sasser and Mr. Zamora began dating while Mr. Sasser was trying to open a restaurant in San Francisco and to publicize issues about AIDS, and Mr. Zamora was a cast member of the third season of “The Real World.” Each had contracted H.I.V. as teenagers.
Their relationship and their commitment ceremony, held in the “Real World” apartment, became the show’s most compelling story line.
“I feel a connection or a closeness to Pedro,” Mr. Sasser said in his vows. “I know one thing for sure: I don’t want that to go away.”
Eric Marcus, a historian of the gay rights movement and the author of “Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights,” said: “For a whole generation they made AIDS and they made same-sex relationships very real,” adding that, “Pedro Zamora and Sean Sasser reached a much larger audience than anyone had to date.”
(Their ceremony was not the first time two gay men committed to each other on television. Bob Paris, a former Mr. Universe, and Rod Jackson, a model, had a wedding on “The Joan Rivers Show” in the early 1990s.)
Mr. Zamora died of complications of AIDS several months after the commitment ceremony.
Sean Franklin Sasser was born in Detroit on Oct. 25, 1968. His parents divorced when he was 6, and his father remained largely absent from his life.
Mr. Sasser tried to enlist in the Navy at 19. He was rejected when a blood test showed he had contracted H.I.V.
He traveled around the country, attended culinary school and became involved in AIDS education and activism. After Mr. Zamora’s death, Mr. Sasser became a more prominent advocate.
More recently, Mr. Sasser had concentrated on baking. He was the pastry chef at Ris, a restaurant in Washington. Mr. Sasser and Mr. Kaplan were married this year.
In addition to Mr. Kaplan, Mr. Sasser is survived by his mother, Patricia, and his sister, Staci White.