RIP Rudy Boesch — Oldest 'Survivor' Contestant Dead At 91

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How Did Rudy Boesch Die? New Details On Death Of Survivor Contestant At 91

When Survivor first premiered in the summer of 2000, it was like nothing American TV audiences had ever seen. Castmates were dropped off on an island with no amenities and expected to survive in the elements, as well as to win at physical and mental challenges set by the production staff.

Rudy Boesch was one of the fan-favorite cast members of that first season. At 72 years old, he was the oldest person competing for the million-dollar prize. But his decades in the military as a Navy SEAL made him a formidable competitor and his take-no-prisoners attitude made him fun for audiences to watch every week. He built a cooperative allegiance with openly gay Richard Hatch, despite his prejudices against LGBTQ people. While he didn't win the competition, he came in third and was one of the first true reality stars, racking up TV appearances and book deals after the show ended. 

He passed away this week at the age of 91. How did Rudy Boesch die? 

1. Rudy's early years

Rudy Boesch was born in Rochester, NY in 1928. He joined the Navy at 17 and he became an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) Frogman in 1951, serving on two UDT Teams. Steve Gonzalez, director of operations for the Seal Veterans Foundation said his career as a SEAL was well known inside the military. Boesch was one of the first SEALs in when the unit formed in 1962, serving two combat tours during the Vietnam War, earning a Bronze Star for heroism, before retiring in 1990 as a master chief petty officer. CBS reports that Boesch was honored as "Chief SEAL," or "Bullfrog," a title that marks his time as the longest-serving SEAL still on active duty.  "He was a legend in the Seal teams long before Survivor," Gonzalez said. 

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2. Survivor Season One

Boesch was cast on the very first season of Survivor in 2000. He was assigned to the Tagi tribe where he built relationships with the rest of his team by cooking. The others called the preparation area "Rowdy Rudy's Diner" and appreciated the skills he brought from having served in combat. He aligned himself with Richard Hatch for the duration of the show and often admonished others on his team to listen to Hatch. He and Hatch ended up in the final three along with Kelly Wiglesworth. Their final challenge involved standing in the sun, keeping one hand on a large wooden idol and the last one to remain standing was the winner. Hatch dropped out early on purpose. Boesch held out for four hours before inadvertently dropping his hand. Wiglesworth, the winner, got to vote on which man had to leave and she selected Boesch. Though Boesch resented Hatch's choice in the idol challenge, he still supported him in the tribal council where he was voted the winner. 

More than 51 million people watched the finale and most had been rooting for Boesch to win it all.

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3. Survivor All-Stars

In 2004, Boesch appeared in Survivor: All-Stars, in the Pearl Islands of Panama. Once again, he was the oldest cast member in series history, a record he had set in the first season as well. He didn't last long on the show. He injured his ankle early on and the pain became a real impediment for him. His teammates were concerned that he would hold them back and they chose to have him leave. He was the second person voted off the island that season. 

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4. Life After Survivor

In the years after making TV history on the first season of Survivor, Boesch was honored by Virginia Beach, where he lived, and the Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution commending his service. He was named Sexiest Survivor in People's Sexiest Man Alive issue in 2000. He wrote a book called The Book of Rudy: The Wit and Wisdom of Rudy Boesch and went on a twelve-city book tour to promote it. He appeared on shows like JAG and on a Mark Burnett-produced show called Combat Missions. He even had his own action figure. 

5. Passing Away at 91

The Washington Post reports that Boesch died peacefully Friday night in hospice care in Virginia Beach surrounded by loved ones, according to Steve Gonzalez. Boesch had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for some time. 

He died due to Alzheimer's disease.

6. Castmates remember Rudy

“Ours was an interesting bond, Dear Rudy! You and I helped open minds and undermine predjudces [sic]. While your time here has passed, you will remain loved and iconic, dear friend,” Richard Hatch tweeted after he heard the news that Boeasch had passed away. Jeff Probst wrote: "The Survivor family has lost a legend. Rudy Boesch passed at the age of 91. He played in the first season of Survivor at the age of 72. He is one is the most iconic and adored players of all time. And he served our country as a 45-year Navy SEAL. Rudy is a true American hero."

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“Rudy was my roommate for weeks on our trip to Argentina after we both were voted out during Survivor: All-Stars,” Rob Cesternino told People. “I would hang on his every word because he was would tell and re-tell all these amazing stories with his unique combination of brutal honesty and a razor-sharp wit. I’ve never met anybody who could ever make me laugh as much as Rudy.”

Probst remembers Boesch.

Rudy Boesch's wife Marjorie Thomas died in 2008 after 53 years of marriage. They are both remembered by their three daughters. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.