Steve Fonyo, the B.C. cancer survivor who ran across Canada with a prosthetic leg as a teen has died at 56, friends and family have confirmed.
Fonyo’s partner Lisa Herbert told Global News they were in the Vancouver area to have his prosthetic foot repaired when he died just after midnight Friday morning.
She said she returned to their hotel room in Burnaby to find Fonyo having what appeared to be a seizure. Paramedics tried to revive him for more than an hour, but he died in her arms, she said.
“He had the biggest heart and he loved people. That’s why he did what he did,” Herbert said Sunday.
“His personality was really big, it filled every room. Everybody that met him, most of them loved him, some of them didn’t like him, but you know you can’t make everyone happy. He acknowledged his life had some problems, but he was generally a guy who just loved people.”
The family won’t have an idea about his cause of death until at least Tuesday when a coroner is available she said.
Lisa Greenwood-Fonyo, Fonyo’s ex-wife, told Global News he was on seizure medication following a brutal 2015 attack that left him in an induced coma for weeks and living with the lasting effects of a traumatic brain injury.
“I think he finally had a seizure,” she said.
Fonyo lost his leg to cancer when he was 12. In 1984 and 1985, at the age of 18, he mounted a successful cross-Canada run, following in the footsteps of Terry Fox.
The “Journey for Lives” initiative raised more than $13 million for cancer research, and Fonyo was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1985.
In the years that followed he struggled with depression and substance abuse and was convicted on a string of criminal offences, ranging from impaired driving to assault. In 2009, he was stripped of his Order of Canada.
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In 2015, he was the subject of a documentary, titled Hurt, chronicling his efforts to put his life back together.
“I need to better myself. And I’m doing that,” he told the Canadian Press after the film’s debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“I don’t think they should have taken away my Order of Canada. I think they should have been more supportive, but it’s a two-way street. I wasn’t really doing anything for myself either.”
Greenwood-Fonyo said it was no secret that her former partner had a troubled past, but that his outlook on life changed after he went through recovery.
He was living in Powell River in recent years, where she said he was happy.
“He was loving it up there and he was having a good time,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t like him. A lot of people thought he was a total jerk. But once you got down past all that he was a pretty good guy. He was incredibly smart.”
The family is gathering in Vancouver and says they have plans to take Fonyo to Vernon where he can be buried with his father.