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'Catfish' Subject Michael Fortunato Dies at 26, Family and Friends React

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Michael Fortunato on 'Catfish' (MTV)

Tragedy has befallen MTV's hit series, "Catfish."

Michael Fortunato, who appeared on Season 2 of the show, died on Saturday, October 12. The 26-year-old New Jersey native starred in the episode entitled "Ashley and Mike," in which he and Ashley Sawyer, 20, met for the first time after being in an online-only romance for seven years.

During the initial meeting, Sawyer admitted she was "disappointed" with the real-life Mike, a check-in from show creator Nev Schulman later revealed that the two were, in fact, still talking and planning to give their relationship another shot. Mike was even paying to fly her out to visit and meet his family.

But that story ends now, as a spokesperson for the chief medical examiner's office in Farmington, Connecticut, confirmed to MTV News that Fortunato suffered a pulmonary embolism due to deep vein thrombosis.

Ashley revealed that Mike had texted her as recently as Saturday morning, explaining that he was thinking about checking himself into the hospital, but he wrote again later to tell her he had changed his mind. Apparently, however, he had changed his mind again, because he was reportedly driving himself to the hospital when his car swerved and hit a fence. From there, paramedics rushed him to seek treatment, but within two hours, he had died.

And now, everyone from his family to the new friends he made on the show must cope with this sudden loss.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Michael Fortunato," MTV said in a statement. "Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time." The show's host used Twitter to share his grief.

"I don't even know where to start," Mike's sister, Gena, lamented, still clearly struck by the loss of her big brother. "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."

For her part, Ashley remembered Mike as "the most honest, loyal person I'd ever met in my life." She also explained that they were "very much in love" and were planning to spend New Year's Eve together in Atlanta, where she and Gena would finally meet in person.

But all is not lost (as far as the show is concerned, anyway).

Despite this terrible news, "Catfish" has enjoyed beautiful high points as well, including the surprise engagement that happened during the show's reunion special Tuesday night. Lauren and Derek had been in an online relationship for eight years before being brought together by Nev and his team, and, it seems, they got their fairy tale ending.

Hopefully there will be more stories that wrap up like this one, and not like Fortunato's, to come.

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