Survivor star Rudy Boesch has died. The legendary player from the first season of the long-running CBS reality competition passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, People reports. Boesch was 91-years-old.
Boesch died on November 1 while in hospice care in Virginia Beach, Virginia, surrounded by loved ones, according to Fox News. His death came exactly 11 years after the death of Marge Boesch, his wife of 53 years, who died on November 1, 2008.
Boesch was 72-years-old when he was cast on the first season of Survivor back in 2000. The decorated military veteran landed third place in the competition, behind winner Richard Hatch and runner-up Kelly Wigelsworth. Boesch was eliminated from the competition after losing the final immunity challenge on Survivor: Borneo, but the fan favorite returned to the franchise for Survivor: All-Stars seven seasons later, where he was eliminated early on.
Boesch was a retired Navy SEAL when he first came to the Survivor island 19 years ago. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1990 and was chosen as one of the first Navy SEALS in 1962. Boesch earned the Bronze Star for heroic action during his long run in the military. On Survivor, he put his military expertise to new use.
After Boesch’s death was announced, original Survivor winner Richard Hatch told People he grew to love his “cantankerous” co-star, saying “We are better people for having known him, and he will be sorely missed.”
Hatch and other Survivor stars, including Boesch’s All-Stars roommate Rob Cesternino and fellow all-star Rob Mariano, aka Boston Rob, paid tribute to him on social media. Cesternino, who became roommates with Boesch after they were voted out of the all-stars season, said Boesch would entertain him with stories about his amazing life.
Ours was an interesting bond, Dear Rudy! You and I helped open minds and undermine predjudces. While your time here has passed, you will remain loved and iconic, dear friend!— Richard Hatch (@HatchRichard) November 2, 2019
We lost an original OG @survivorcbs legend... Rudy was always very nice to me. I feel fortunate to have known him and played the game of with him #SurvivorAllStars Our Sincere condolences to his Family. Rest In Peace Rudy????— Boston Rob (@BostonRob) November 2, 2019
I heard the news today about my old roommate RUDY BOESCH passing away. While I'm incredibly sad for the Boesch family, I'm so happy for the time that he and I shared and the many, many laughs we had on our adventure. RIP Rudy pic.twitter.com/XnQpr73uqx— Rob Cesternino ???? (@robcesternino) November 2, 2019
In addition, Survivor host Jeff Probst paid tribute to Boesch. In a poignant social media post, Probst described Boesch as one of the most beloved Survivor players of all time, and more importantly, as a “true American hero.”
The Survivor family has lost a legend. Rudy Boesch passed at the age of 91.— Jeff Probst (@JeffProbst) November 3, 2019
He played in the first season of Survivor at the age of 72. He is one is the most iconic and adored players of all time.
And he served our country as a 45-year Navy SEAL.
Rudy is a true American hero. pic.twitter.com/IJxELbcthH
Boesch, who still holds the record of the oldest Survivor player in history, was so popular after his stint on the CBS reality show that he was featured in People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. At the height of his Survivor fame, Boesch published a book, The Book of Rudy: The Wit and Wisdom of Rudy Boesch, in 2001. That same year, he had an action figure created of his likeness by Blue Box Toys.
Boesch attended the Survivor: Caramoan reunion in 2013 and was inducted into the “Survivor Hall of Fame” in 2015, according to Parade.
But while Survivor brought him fame, the reality show hardly defined him.
“He was a legend in the SEAL teams long before Survivor,'” Steve Gonzalez, director of operations for the SEAL Veterans Foundation, told Fox News of Boesch.
Funeral arrangements for Rudy Boesch have not yet been publicly announced.