Pedro Zamora was one of the earliest stars of MTV's smash hit The Real World. It was 1994, in the early days of the reality TV boom, when we were still getting used to the idea of watching strangers go about their lives on national TV. The Real World was full of fun and drama in its first seasons, but when Zamora joined the cast, things truly "got real" – Zamora was HIV positive, the first cast member with a life-threatening illness.
Zamora was diagnosed with HIV in his junior year of high school, and by age 19, he had embarked on a career as an AIDS educator. When the opportunity arose to audition for a spot on The Real World, he jumped at it, seeing it as a chance to further his message of AIDS awareness.
In many ways, Zamora's time on The Real World wasn't all that different from any other cast member's – he clashed with housemates, formed friendships, fell in love. But at the same time, the illness he battled was taking its toll. While in the Real World house, Zamora progressively weakened, suffering from pneumonia. His costars covered for him when they could, telling the audience he was fine even when he wasn't. Still, it was clear that many of them were worried about the man who had become their friend and raised their awareness and tolerance.
The show began airing just a week after the cast moved out of the house, and midway through the show's run, Zamora was hospitalized with toxoplasmosis and progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). One day after the show's final episode, Zamora died at age 22. He would have turned 40 today.
In his short life, Pedro Zamora did much to advance AIDS awareness and understanding, as well as to advance a generation's acceptance of homosexuality. When he fell for Sean Sasser, and later married him in a commitment ceremony at the Real World house, the audience was not horrified, as they might have been just a decade or two earlier, but charmed. The romance was, 14 years later, nominated for "Favorite Love Story" out of two dozen seasons of cast members dating and falling in love. Zamora both educated and inspired a generation.
Written by Linnea Crowther