Fans of the iconic Degrassi series are mourning the loss of Neil Hope, also known as Derek "Wheels" Wheeler, as news broke on Thursday that the former teen star has been dead for five years.
Several media outlets have reported that news of Hope's passing was made public on Thursday, Feb. 16, but confirmation from Hope's sister-in-law, Tracy Northrup Hope, had been posted on the Facebook group "Let's Bring The Real Neil Hope ("Wheels" from Degrassi)" on Jan. 12, 2012. The posting reported Hope had died from natural causes on Nov. 25, 2007, in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 35.
According to the National Post, the Canadian actor's fiancee, Christina Boulard, released the following statement:
"The family regrets to announce that Neil passed away in Hamilton, Ontario on November 25, 2007 of natural causes. There was some confusion regarding his passing that they do not wish to go public with, which is why they are only announcing his death now to the public and the media."
Stephen Stohn, President of Epitome Pictures Inc. and Executive Producer of Degrassi, posted the following comments via Twitter:
"We are all terribly saddened by this news . . . Neil and his character Wheels in the early Degrassi deeply touched many lives."
"We have respected the privacy of the family by not saying anything until now, but our entire team is very emotional about his passing."
Hope was born in Toronto on Sept. 24, 1972. His parents struggled with alcoholism, an addiction he spoke of candidly in a 1992 series called Degrassi Talked, where he joined the show's actors in discussing issues such as addiction and safe sex.
After the filming of The Dark Side, a documentary on the death of his father, Hope himself endured his own battle with alcohol addiction.
(YouTube screengrab photo)