Michael Cuccione, who played the engaging Jason "Q.T." McKnight on the boy-band spoof "2gether," died of natural causes Saturday night in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, just eight days after his 16th birthday.
"His lungs just gave out," his uncle, also named Michael Cuccione, said on Tuesday (January 16). "We weren't really expecting it."
Cuccione had been fighting respiratory problems for several months and did not appear in the last several episodes of the popular series, which aired on MTV.
While Cuccione's character was afflicted with the fictional "biliary thrombosis," in real life, the teen had previously suffered from Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer affecting the lymph nodes. The cancer, first diagnosed in July 1994 when Cuccione was 9, was treated with five months of chemotherapy, but returned the following year and spread to his lungs. However, more aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a successful bone marrow transplant kept him cancer-free.
According to Cuccione's uncle, the singer/actor's cancer had not returned in five years, but past treatments had left him unable to move air properly through his lungs. He developed a problem with his diaphragm and was forced to tape episodes of "2gether" with a portable oxygen machine in tow.
Cuccione was unable to fight off the effects of a minor Vancouver-area car accident in early December, and he entered the hospital on December 4 with pneumonia. He spent the rest of his stay on a respirator before succumbing to respiratory failure on January 13.
A well-known campaigner for cancer research and awareness following his bout with the disease, the singer/actor established the charitable Michael Cuccione Foundation for Cancer Research and turned a love of music into a fund-raising effort by recording a five-song CD, Make a Difference. He also co-authored a book with his grandmother, There Are Survivors: The Michael Cuccione Story," about his experiences.
His efforts eventually raised close to $500,000 (CDN), which was donated to the B.C. Children's Hospital.
In July 1997, a request to meet "Baywatch" star David Hasselhoff led to an acting role on an episode of the show playing real-life cancer victim Charlie Dodson Hays, and more roles followed.
The producers of "2gether" had already arranged to shoot the movie and ultimately the spin-off TV series in Vancouver when they discovered Cuccione and cast him in the part of Q.T., the "cute one." The series was an immediate hit, as was the soundtrack album (see "2gether Outpaces 'NSYNC On Singles Chart, Talks Success"). The group even took on concert performances, most notably opening seven shows for Britney Spears (see "2gether To Open Select Shows For Britney Spears").
A memorial service is being held for Cuccione in Vancouver Wednesday evening with the funeral set for Thursday morning. Both are open to the public, according to his family.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Cuccione's memory to the Michael Cuccione Foundation, Box 31081, 2929 St. John's Street, Port Moody, B.C, Canada, V3H 4T4.