British Columbia

Steve Fonyo, who lost leg to cancer and ran across Canada to raise funds, dead at 56

Steve Fonyo, who lost his leg to cancer as a child and ran a marathon across Canada to raise millions for cancer research, has died.

Fonyo completed a nationwide marathon to raise money for cancer research in 1985

Flawed Canadian hero Steve Fonyo dead at 56

4 months ago
Duration 2:11
Steve Fonyo, who lost his leg to cancer and then completed a cross-Canada run to raise funds for cancer research and became a national hero, has died at 56. Fonyo leaves behind a complicated legacy.

Steve Fonyo, who lost his leg to cancer as a child and ran a marathon across Canada to raise millions for cancer research, has died. He was 56.

Fonyo's niece Melody Kruppa says Fonyo had what appeared to be a seizure in a hotel room in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday and paramedics could not revive him.

The cause of death was not clear and the family will have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday for the coroner to assess the body due to the long weekend, Kruppa said.

"We're in shock," she said.

"We're all just waiting. We're just doing the best that we can. It's just very hard to wait for the coroner to look at him and find out what the cause was and whether we're going to be able to view his body. We just don't know anything right now."

WATCH | Fonyo's 2015 interview with The National: 

Steve Fonyo | Shadow of a Hero

7 years ago
Duration 9:28
In 1984 Steve Fonyo picked up where Terry Fox left off. He ran across Canada raising millions for cancer research. But that was 31 years ago. And a lot has changed.

She said Fonyo and his partner had travelled to the Vancouver area from their home in Powell River, B.C., to get the foot on his artificial leg redone.

Fonyo lost a leg to cancer when he was 12 and became a national hero in 1985 after completing a Canada-wide marathon to raise money for cancer research, five years after Terry Fox attempted the same thing.

Fonyo dips his artifical limb in the Pacific Ocean in Victoria after completing his cross-country run in this 1985 photo. (Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

Fonyo was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1985 at the age of 19 — the youngest person to receive the honour at the time.

But his membership was terminated in 2009 following several criminal convictions. The decision sparked public outcry, with critics saying at the time he should be remembered as a hero despite his struggles later in life.

In 2015, Fonyo told The Canadian Press that he was putting his life back together after decades of drug abuse, crime and near homelessness.

At the time the runner was back in the spotlight with a documentary about his troubled life at the Toronto International Film Festival called Hurt.

He said the film director, Alan Zweig, had helped him see things he needed to work on and that his life was much more stable after his troubles.

"I need to better myself. And I'm doing that," Fonyo said.

"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."

Zweig told CBC News that he and Fonyo formed a close friendship during and after the making of the film. Though the pair hadn't seen each other since 2017, Zweig said they stayed in touch through social media.

"I think he was happy in the last few years and I think he was happy that day [he died]," Zweig said. 

Fonyo was back in the spotlight in 2015 with a documentary about his troubled life at the Toronto International Film Festival called Hurt. He's seen here in a still from that film. (Courtesy MDF Productions)

Kruppa said Fonyo was her hero.

"He was 11 years older than me. I looked up to him," she said.

"What I respected about him was that he had a lot of difficulties, but he kept going. He just persevered."

She called on the federal government to reinstate Fonyo's Order of Canada.

"If this isn't possible then I will cut out the photo that I have of his medal and place it on his chest at the burial," Kruppa said.

"If the latter is necessary then that would be a real shame."

With files from Georgie Smyth

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