BURNABY, BC – Steve Fonyo, who survived childhood cancer and rose to fame for his fundraising efforts in the 1980s before falling out of favor, 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 that she returned to the room to find Fonyo unresponsive.
“I turned on the lights and he was on the floor, convulsing. I thought he was having a nightmare… I couldn’t wake him up,” Herbert said.
Paramedics tried to revive him, but were unsuccessful.
She said the British Columbia Coroners Service told her Fonyo’s cause of death would not be determined until Tuesday at the earliest, due to the long weekend.
Fonyo rose to fame in the 1980s after running across Canada to raise money for cancer research, just like Terry Fox.
Like Fox, Fonyo was born in British Columbia and lost his leg to illness. Unlike Fox, whose cancer returned before he could complete his long-distance run, Fonyo completed the journey, raking in over $13 million in “Journey for Lives.”
“I just want people to know what he did was important and he changed the world in the 80s and he did something amazing and he did it because he loved people. And they loved him too,” Herbert said.
At the age of 18, he received the Order of Canada for his achievements.
But over time, Fonyo has seen his accomplishments overshadowed by run-ins with the law. He was convicted and served time in prison for several offenses including fraud, theft and assault with a weapon.
He was officially stripped of the Order of Canada in 2010. In 2015, Fonyo was stabbed and beaten during a home invasion. He spent several weeks in an induced coma, but had recovered and in recent years had largely put his life back on track.
Herbert said Fonyo was the first to admit he had problems.
“He had some problems, but we all have them. Who doesn’t, right? It’s hard to be perfect when you’re under a magnifying glass,” she said.
But she said what he did to help others will not be forgotten.
“He had people stopping him all the time and telling him how the money he raised in the ’80s had helped their family members, or themselves,” 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 nice person.”
A mass is planned in Vernon to remember Fonyo.