“Catfish” subject Michael Fortunato died at 26 years old from a pulmonary embolism in Hartford, Conn., MTV News reported Tuesday. The New Jersey native appeared on season two of the ground-breaking reality show in the episode dubbed “Ashley and Mike.” He and Ashley Sawyer had an online relationship for seven years in what was called the “double catfish” episode.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Michael Fortunato," an MTV spokesperson said. "Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."
A “catfish” is someone who pretends to be someone else online by using someone else’s pictures, or altered pictures, and usually lies about many aspects of their lives. Fortunato had lied about his appearance to Sawyer, and she photoshopped pictures of herself to appear slimmer.
An autopsy hasn’t been released, but Fotunato’s sister Gena told MTV he died on Monday night. "I don't even know where to start," Gena said. "He was a little kid at heart -- a gentle giant. He's somebody who put everybody before himself; everybody else came before him. The biggest heart that you'd ever meet."
The medical examiner's office in Farmington, Conn., told MTV News Fortunato's pulmonary embolism resulted from deep vein thrombosis.
Sawyer said she spoke to Fortunato earlier in the day and he said he had thought about going to the hospital. Later in the day he went to drive himself to the hospital, but swerved and hit a fence. Sawyer said he was "the most honest, loyal person I'd ever met in my life."
"He would give anybody the last shirt he had -- anything," 20-year-old Sawyer told MTV News. "He would put his life on hold just to make sure other people moved forward. He always put people first."
In their "Catfish" episode, Sawyer was unsure what she wanted to do after she met Fortunato in real life. But the two continued to talk, and she told the news site they had planned to spend New Year’s together.
"Me and him were very much in love. ... We were definitely moving forward," Sawyer said. "If more people were like Mike, everybody would be a little happier in the world."