ByPaul Gaita/Updated: June 16, 2022 6:14 am EST
The British cooking competition series "MasterChef" has proven to be one of the longest-running and most popular series of its type. It has expanded to not only multiple formats but also enjoyed international versions in more than 40 countries around the world. The original series, which aired on BBC One from 1990 to 2000, put amateur cooks in a series of elimination rounds that required them to create various gourmet meals for a panel of judges, who declared the winner based on the presentation and taste of their creations. A revised "MasterChef" returned to the BBC in 2005 and remains one of its most-watched reality programs. Its sizable following led to live specials and several spin-offs, including "Celebrity MasterChef"; "MasterChef: The Professionals," which featured professional cooks; and "MasterChef Junior," which featured contestants between the ages of nine and 13 years of age.
Since its revival, "MasterChef" has expanded to homegrown versions in dozens of countries, including the American "MasterChef" and "MasterChefJunior," which Gordon Ramsay has hosted since 2010 and 2013, respectively. Many contestants have gone on to enjoy careers in the culinary arts, while others have returned to their pre-TV fame lives. Sadly, a select number of contestants have died since their time in the "MasterChef" spotlight ended. Here'sa list of the "MasterChef" contestants you might not know passed away.
Josh Marks struggled with mental health issues
A contestant on Season 3 of the American "MasterChef," Josh Marks was a runner-up on the series but won a legion of fans for his gentle nature and charming personality. Marks was reportedly in demand at restaurants and as a guest at public events after his "MasterChef" appearance. But his sudden rise to fame was upended by a string of mental health issues that ultimately led to his death in October of 2013.
The 7-foot-2-inch Marks, who was a former contract specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after experiencing a psychotic episode following a car accident. Marks' family told the "Chicago Reader" that finding treatment for their son was a challenge due to his lack of medical insurance. They eventually found a program in 2013, and Marks began to show signs of progress: he recorded a public service video for the Make a Sound Project that detailed his bipolar diagnosis.
However, without longer-term treatment, Marks' health issues returned, and in July of 2013, he attempted to commit suicide with a gun. When police attempted to intervene, he responded with physical violence and was arrested on aggravated assault charges. Marks returned to hospital care after his release from jail and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. While living with his father on Chicago's South Side, Marks took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 26 years old at the time of his death.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
Ben Watkins overcame personal tragedy
Indiana native Ben Watkins was among the Top 24 chefs between the ages of nine and 13 who competed in Season 6 of "MasterChef Junior" in 2018. The 11-year-old won his share of admirers for his skill with desserts as well as his perseverance in the face of personal tragedy. Watkins' parents, who gave their son his first exposure to cooking at their barbecue restaurant, died in a murder-suicide in 2017.
Watkins was ultimately dismissed in the fifth round of competition and returned home to Gary, Indiana to live with his legal guardians: his grandmother, Donna Edwards, and uncle, Anthony Edwards. Sadly, Watkins would face further challenges in the years to come: shortly after his 13th birthday, he was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, a rare soft tissue tumor.
With the support of his family and the citizens of Gary, Indiana, Watkins began chemotherapy for his condition. However, the tumors, which spread to his lungs, spine, and shoulder, proved impossible to overcome, and Watkins died in November 2018 at the age of 14.
Beth Kirby became a popular blogger and photographer
Tennessee-based food blogger and food photographer Beth Kirby participated in Season 4 of "MasterChef." She shouldered a barrage of challenges throughout her tenure, including the team pressure test and Japanese Mystery Box test, and her team captured top honors on three separate occasions. However, her dish placed at the bottom of the entries on Episode 11, which led to her elimination.
After studying philosophy at Loyola University New Orleans, Kirby survived a struggle with addiction and returned to her native Tennessee. There, she launched a blog, Local Milk, where she shared recipes and lifestyle ideas as well as food photography, which she also showcased on her Instagram account. Both soon became exceptionally popular, but in 2020, Kirby announced that she was taking a leave of absence from her online presence.
In 2022, Kirby's husband, business owner Matthew Ludwikowski, announced that the 38-year-old had died of cancer on March 30 of that year.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Jon Hameister-Ries followed football with a cooking career
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Former professional Canadian football player Jon Hameister-Ries was a second-round draft pick in 2007 and signed with the BC Lions as an offensive lineman that year. After seven seasons with the team, including their win of the Grey Cup—the championship game of the Canadian Football League—in 2011, Hameister-Ries was released by the team in 2013 and focused on his love for cooking. He opened his own restaurant, Meat City, before participating in Season 2 of "MasterChef Canada" in 2015.
He earned the final spot in the Top 16 and won the Mystery Box challenge in the next episode. After joining the Blue Team, his fortunes rose and fell in various episodes: his team failed the third elimination round, but his dish was among the best in the fourth Mystery Box challenge. Hameister-Ries was finally ousted in the fifth elimination test on Episode 11.
On June 9, 2021, the 37-year-old Hameister-Ries died of undisclosed causes.
Ross Burden became a popular TV host in the UK and New Zealand
New Zealander Ross Burden kicked off his celebrated television career when he reached the finals on the UK edition of "MasterChef" in 2003. His culinary talents and easygoing personality led to an eight-year gig as a celebrity chef on another reality cooking series, "Ready Steady Cook," and regular appearances on various news and talk programs. He also served as a private chef for celebrities, including Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
By the late 1990s, Burden had expanded to his own series of culinary travel shows, which took him from the United States to Thailand and South Africa. A dedicated nature lover, he also hosted wildlife specials for National Geographic. In 2010, he returned to his native country to serve as a judge on the first series of "MasterChef New Zealand."
In 2014, Burden underwent treatment for leukemia. While in hospital, he contracted Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia, from infected water and died of the disease at the age of 45 on July 14 of that year.
Marathoning became one of Matt Campbell's passions
Matt Campbell had already displayed his culinary gifts in 2009 when he placed second on the BBC series "Young Chef of the Year." Just 20 years old at the time, Campbell parlayed his fame into work as a private chef in the French Alps before competing in "MasterChef: The Professionals" in 2017. Though he was eliminated in the semi-final round of that series, he remained an in-demand chef and a tireless advocate for vegan cuisine.
During this period, Campbell also began running marathons with his father, Martin, and brother Josh. Following his father's death in 2016, he continued to compete on the marathon circuit in order to raise funds for various charities in his father's name. On April 23, 2018, the 29-year-old Campbell collapsed at the 22.5-mile mark in the London Marathon, which was the second of two marathons he participated in during a two-week period. Despite receiving medical treatment at the scene from race doctors, Campbell died that same day while receiving treatment in a hospital.
Illness forced Budi A.M. to drop out of MasterChef Indonesia
International editions of "MasterChef" air in dozens of countries around the world, from Finland and the Dominican Republic to Pakistan and Indonesia. The latter iteration has been a staple of West Jakarta's RCTI network for nine seasons since its debut in 2011, with "Junior MasterChief Indonesia" following in 2014. Tragedy hit the award-winning series in 2015 when restaurant manager Budi A.M., who competed in Season 4 of "MasterChef Indonesia," died of undisclosed causes on January 29, 2021.
Budi, a native of Jakarta, withdrew from the series in the middle of an elimination round during competition on July 25, 2015, due to a long-standing stomach problem that he feared would distract his competitors from their tasks. His death was announced on "MasterChef Indonesia's" Instagram account, where its producers paid their condolences to his family and featured a photograph of the chef with two of the show's judges. No cause appears to have been given for his death.
MasterChef India led Garima Kothari to stateside success
Chef Garima Kothari was one of 15 finalists on the debut season of "MasterChef India" in 2010. A former investment banker, Kothari's love of baking spurred her to change careers and audition for the reality series. She later studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and relocated to Florida in 2015. From there, she moved to New Jersey and launched her own catering company, Breaking Bread, in Jersey City. With her husband, banker Man Mohan Mall, she opened a restaurant, Nukkad, in February of 2020, but was forced to close her doors due to COVID-19 restrictions a month later.
On the morning of April 26, 2020, Kothari was found dead in her apartment in downtown Jersey City. Her husband was found that same morning floating in the Hudson River and was pronounced dead of an apparent suicide attempt. The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office issued a statement that described the deaths as a possible murder-suicide, but the final determination appears to remain pending. Kothari was five months pregnant at the time of her death.
If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.
Veronica Forque was an award-winning Spanish actress
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A four-time winner of the Goya, Spain's highest acting award, Veronica Forque was an appealing comic presence in many popular features from her native country. She enjoyed a supporting role in Pedro Almodovar's 1984 comedy "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" and later starred in his 1991 film "Kika." She captured her Goyas for dramatic films ("La vida allegre") and comedies ("Moors and Christians") and starred in hugely popular television series like 1995's "Pepe y Pepa."
Forque's screen career had cooled by the time of her participation in Season 6 of "MasterChef Celebrity," a Spanish edition of the "MasterChef" spin-off series. Her time on the series was brief: citing exhaustion, she departed the show during the semifinals in 2021. A month later, Forque was discovered unconscious in her home; emergency services were summoned but were unable to revive her. A post-mortem investigation later revealed that the 66-year-old actress, who suffered from depression, had committed suicide by hanging.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Helen Barker was a MasterChef revival competitor
Helen Barker was a 2006 contestant on the second season of the BBC "MasterChef" revival, which was initially titled "MasterChef Goes Large" before reverting to its original title. The 38-year-old, who attained a degree in dental technology, was found murdered in her home in Trowbridge, a town in South West England, on the morning of September 8, 2016. A post-mortem initially proved inconclusive as to the cause of death, but a 78-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and actual bodily harm.
The man, who was reported to have been known by Barker, lived alone and was later released on bail. A Wiltshire Police spokesperson was quoted at the time of the incident as stating that an investigation was being carried out in the wake of the man's release. However, no further updates appear to have been given to date on the cause of Barker's death, nor do any additional suspects appear to have been named regarding the case.