Ben Watkins — a Season 6 “MasterChef Junior” contestant who placed in the Top 18 — has passed away at age 14 from cancer.
In a statement from Ben’s maternal grandmother Donna and uncle Anthony posted on his GoFundMe page, the young man passed away Monday after he was hospitalized at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know. When Ben’s rare illness was shared with the world, he was so heartened by the outpouring of love he received from every corner of the globe — especially here in his hometown of Gary, Indiana,” it said.
“We cannot thank this community enough for holding our family up in prayer and for all that you’ve done. Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on this Earth but we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and in that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many. #Love4Ben”
Anthony also told the Chicago Tribune that Ben was surrounded by loved ones and his massive Marvel Comics collection when he passed.
“We were praying for a different outcome,” Anthony told the outlet. “But Ben’s lungs could no longer give him the air he needed to breathe. It’s been devastating.”
Per a statement from his family obtained by People, Watkins was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma (AFH) just days after his 13th birthday.
AFH is a soft tissue tumor that typically occurs in children and young adults. Ben’s GoFundMe said he is one of only six people in the entire world to be diagnosed with the illness.
Ben’s tragic death comes over three years after his mother and father, Leila Edwards and Mike Watkins, died in a murder-suicide. Per the Chicago Tribune, authorities say that on September 16, 2017, Mike shot and killed Leila before taking his own life in their Gary, Indiana, home.
Prior to his parents’ death, the Chicago Tribune says Ben worked at his father’s barbecue restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue & Deli, named in his honor.
The news outlet also said his favorite school subjects were math and science, and that he was involved in a number of extracurricular activities including spell bowl, math bowl, and chess club.
After news of Ben’s passing broke, “MasterChef Junior” host Gordon Ramsay paid his respects on social media.
We lost a Master of the @MasterChefJrFOX kitchen today. Ben you were an incredibly talented home cook and even stronger young man. Your young life had so many tough turns but you always persevered. Sending all the love to Ben Watkins’ family with this terrible loss Gx pic.twitter.com/RX81hP7lbw— Gordon Ramsay (@GordonRamsay) November 17, 2020
Production companies EndemolShine North America and Fox Entertainment also released a statement honoring the talented chef.
“It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Ben Watkins, a beloved member of the ‘MasterChef Junior’ family,” their statement read. “Ben overcame so much in his life with a remarkably positive attitude. He was a tremendous role model for chefs of all ages and will be dearly missed by everyone at EndemolShine North America and Fox Entertainment.”
Our condolences go out to Ben’s family and loved ones for their loss.