A beloved Survivor contestant died, who was known for being a fan favorite. He was one of the first contestants to ever appear on the show, with more than 51 million people watching the final episode in which he was eliminated.
His popularity even convinced Survivor producers to bring him back for the show’s eighth season, which delighted his fans.
Rudy Boesch died at the age of 91 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. When he was originally cast in the long-running reality show, he was 72 years old. He finished the inaugural season of Survivor in third place and had become a fan-favorite due to his lovable, but cantankerous, personality.
His start on the show was rocky, however, and it looked as if he would be voted off the island early. Instead, Boesch joined the show’s first-ever alliance and ended up lasting 38 days.
His closest ally on the show was Robert Hatch, an openly gay corporate trainer and the contestant who walked away with the big prize.
Hatch took to Twitter to pay tribute to Boesch.
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
Rob Cesternino, a Survivor: All Stars contestant with Boesch, recalled his friendship during an interview with PEOPLE, saying, “I would hang on his every word because he would tell and re-tell all these amazing stories with his unique combination of brutal honesty and razor-sharp wit. I’ve never met anybody who could ever make me laugh as much as Rudy.”
In another interview, Tina Wesson reflected on the time she spent with Boesch as a tribemate on Survivor: All Stars. “What you saw on TV is exactly the man he was,” Wesson said to PEOPLE. “He was tough as nails suffering from a bad case of gout… but never really complaining about it, though his foot looked like it may fall off!”
Boesch enlisted in the United States Navy in 1945, the end of World War II. In 1962, he was selected as one of the first Navy SEALS. He fought in Vietnam, completing two combat deployments, and received the Bronze Star.
Boesch retired from the Navy in 1990, ten years before his time on the first Survivor. He was married for 53 years to Marjorie Thomas, who passed away in 2008.