According to the Associated Press, actor Neil Hope, who starred as Derek “Wheels” Wheeler on the 1980s TV series DEGRASSI JUNIOR HIGH and had little contact with relatives and friends in his final years, died alone in an Ontario rooming house in 2007, his former fiance, Christina Boulard, confirmed Friday.
Boulard said Hope’s family spent years trying to track him down after hearing rumors of his passing several years ago, but only learned last month from police in Hamilton, Ontario, that he had died on Nov. 25, 2007. She revealed Hope died of “natural causes” at the age of 35 but declined to elaborate, only saying Hope was diabetic.
Boulard, who last saw Hope in 2002, said it was not unusual for him to cut ties with friends and family for sometimes a year at a time.
“Neil was a very private person. He didn’t have the best life, there were times when he would go a while without seeing or talking to his family,” Boulard said.
She said she is angry that police took so long to inform Hope’s relatives of his death. He apparently had not listed a next-of-kin in any official documents, she said, adding she doubted that was true.
“He deserved better and so did his family,” Boulard said.
Hamilton Police Service Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings said Friday that the force doesn’t comment on “sudden death investigations where there’s no suspicion of any foul play.”
A spokeswoman for Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner said that an unclaimed person would be buried by a municipality only after a next-of-kin search was conducted. Cheryl Mahyr said a search could include hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, community organizations and mental health facilities.
Fans of the original DEGRASSI will remember Wheels as part of the band The Zit Remedy (The Zits), along with Joey Jeremiah and Archie "Snake" Simpson. The all appeared the other versions of the show including THE NEXT GENERATION where Joey was a regular for a while and Snake eventually became principal. Watch the band's fun "Everybody Wants Something" below.
In another episode, an older man tries to molest Wheels.
Wheels had a sad ending as he killed a child in a drinking and driving accident.
In 2005 Stefan Brogren (Archie) tracked down Hope and interviewed him for THE DEGRASSI STORY.