Family members learned of actor's death only recently

Actor Neil Hope, who starred as Derek “Wheels” Wheeler on the popular 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 confirmed.

Ex-fiance Christina 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.

Boulard said the former star of Canada’s groundbreaking “Degrassi” series died on Nov. 25, 2007, of natural causes at the age of 35 but declined to elaborate, saying only that Hope was diabetic.

Hope was one of “Degrassi’s” earliest stars, appearing as Griff on the first installment, “The Kids of Degrassi Street,” in 1979.

On “Degrassi Junior High,” which ran from 1987-91 on PBS in the U.S., he portrayed the troubled Derek Wheeler — known as “Wheels” — who struggled with alcoholism. The actor was candid about his own difficult childhood growing up with alcoholic parents.

“Degrassi Junior High” was acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of topics such as drug use, child abuse, teen pregnancy, homophobia, racism and divorce. The show followed the lives of teens who eventually graduated to “Degrassi High,” another incarnation of the show.

Hope later guest starred on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” in 2001 and 2003, but details of his final years were scarce.

“Degrassi Junior High” creator Linda Schuyler said she was “terribly saddened to hear the news.”

“Neil made an important contribution to our lives, to the lives of our television team who are like a family to us and indeed to the lives of the many Canadians and others around the world who were influenced by Neil and the roles he played, starting from the early days of ‘The Kids of Degrassi Street,'” Schuyler said in a joint statement with executive producer Stephen Stohn.

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