Yesterday, news outfits made an official announcement that Neil Hope, who played Derek "Wheels" Wheeler on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, passed away. However, Hope actually died in November 2007, which the family chose not to publicly reveal until last month. On the Facebook group "Let's Bring the Real Neil Hope", a woman believed to be Hope's sister-in-law, confirmed in January that he had died of natural causes more than four years ago.
Hope's fiance released a statement:
“The family regrets to announce that Neil passed away on November 25, 2007 of natural causes. There was some confusion regarding his passing that they do not wish to go public with, which is why they are only announcing his death now to the public and the media.”
Hope, the son of alcoholics who both died from the disease, had struggled with alcoholism after the filming of the documentary The Dark Side, whose subject had been his father. His character had also been addicted to alcohol and the character's adoptive parents were killed by a drunk driver. It was a subject Hope felt strongly about, encouraging teens to seek help in a 1990s series called Degrassi Talks.
Hope had appeared on Degrassi: The Next Generation. His last acting role had been for the show in 2003.
Former Degrassi stars shared the news among themselves on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, said Dan Woods, who played teacher, and later principal, Mr. Raditch on the show.
“He was a quiet guy when we were off set, but full of energy, very bright-eyed," Woods said in a phone interview with The Star. "We’re all pretty shocked about the news. We’re saddened by it. Neil was a great guy and a great light.”
A fan has created a memorial web site: http://www.neil-hope.com/