Anyone who grew up in the ’80s in North America undoubtedly remembers “Degrassi Junior High,” the Canadian series that aired on PBS in the United States and followed the drama that unfolded between numerous teens who eventually graduated to “Degrassi High.” Anyone who was a “Degrassi” fan also undoubtedly recalls Derek “Wheels” Wheeler, member of the band Zit Remedy, adviser to the pregnant Christine “Spike” Nelson and the troubled kid who lost his adoptive parents in a drunken driving accident, only to later kill a child while driving drunk himself.
Wheels was played by an actor named Neil Hope. And Hope, sadly, is suddenly in the headlines again because he has died.
In a particularly strange twist, Hope died at age 35 back in 2007, but his death was not publicly reported until this week.
The Toronto Star has published a more detailed account of what happened to Hope, who reportedly died of natural causes.
The one-time teen star’s body was found in November 2007 in a boarding house in Hamilton, Ontario. He had apparently lost touch with relatives and friends; the story says that Hope’s brother and sister-in-law heard rumors that he might have died two or three years ago but “brushed it off.” Concerned after not hearing from him for so long, they tried to track him down and eventually contacted police, who confirmed that a previously unidentified body was, in fact, Hope’s. The exact cause of his death is unclear; his former fiance, Christina Boulard, told the Canadian Press that he was diabetic but offered no further details.
On Jan. 12 of this year, a woman who identified herself as Hope’s niece posted an R.I.P. note on the Facebook page, “Let’s Bring the Real Neil Hope (“Wheels” From Degrassi) to Facebook,” which is when the news of his death first slowly began to trickle out online.
Linda Schuyler and Stephen Sohn, executive producers of the original “Degrassi” — which eventually spawned the still-running “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” on which Hope also appeared — released a statement this week, and more media outlets began to pick up on the news.
“Neil made an important contribution to our lives, to the lives of our television team, who are like a family to us, and indeed to the lives of many Canadians and others around the world who were influenced by Neil and the roles he played starting from the early days of ‘The Kids of Degrassi Street,’ ” they said in their statement. Sohn also tweeted about the situation yesterday.
We have respected the privacy of the family by not saying anything until now, but our entire team is very emotional about his passing— Stephen Stohn (@stephenstohn) February 16, 2012
Boulard has said she is planning a memorial service with Amanda Stepto, who played the aforementioned Spike on “Degrassi.” On the “Let’s Bring the Real Neil Hope to Facebook” page, she posted a note that says the service will take place in May.
If you’d like to pay tribute to Hope by revisiting some classic Wheels moments from “Degrassi Junior High,” have a look at the video below.