B.C. cancer survivor and fundraising icon Steve Fonyo dead at 56

Steve Fonyo, who survived boyhood cancer and became famous for fundraising efforts in the 1980s before falling from grace, has died.

The 56-year-old was in Burnaby for an appointment related to his prosthetic leg when he died in his hotel room in the early hours of Friday morning, according to his partner Lisa Marie Herbert.

Herbert told CTV News she came back to the room to find Fonyo unresponsive.

“I turned the lights on and he was on the floor, convulsing. I thought he was having a nightmare … I couldn’t wake him up,” Herbert said.

Paramedics attempted to revive him, but were unable to do so.

She said the BC Coroners Service has told her the cause of Fonyo’s death won’t be determined until Tuesday at the earliest, because of the long weekend.

Fonyo rose to fame in the 1980s after running across Canada to raise money for cancer research, following the example set by Terry Fox.

Like Fox, Fonyo was born in B.C. and lost his leg to the disease. Unlike Fox, whose cancer returned before he could finish his cross-country run, Fonyo completed the trip, raising more than $13 million in the “Journey for Lives.”

“I just want people to know that what he did, it was important and he changed the world in the ’80s and he did something extraordinary and he did it because he loved people. And they loved him too,” said Herbert.

At the age of 18, he was awarded the Order of Canada for his achievement.

But as time went on, Fonyo found his accomplishments overshadowed by trouble with the law. He was convicted of and served jail time for several offences, including fraud, theft and assault with a weapon.

He was formally stripped of the Order of Canada in 2010. In 2015, Fonyo was stabbed and beaten during a home invasion. He spent multiple weeks in an induced coma, but had recovered and in recent years had largely got his life back on track.

Herbert said Fonyo was the first to admit he’d had problems.

“He had some problems, but we all do. Who doesn’t, right? It’s hard to be perfect when you’re under the scrutiny of a magnifying glass,” she said.

But she said what he did to help others will not be forgotten.

“He had people stop him all the time and tell him how the money he had raised in the ’80s had helped their family members, or them,” Herbert said.

“His personality was big and he made me laugh every day,” she added. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”

Fonyo’s sister, Suzanne Main, says she is devastated by her brother’s death.

“He was my hero. I’m very proud of him for what he did,” she said. “He was such a kind person.”

A service is being planned in Vernon to remember Fonyo.  

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