TMZ wrote, “[Ben] was diagnosed with a soft tissue tumor when he was only 13 years old, and the family says doctors told them Ben was 1 of only 6 people in the entire world diagnosed with the rare illness called Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma.” He died on Monday.
Prior to competing on the cooking show, Ben had lost his parents in 2017 in a murder-suicide.
Here’s what you need to know:
Ben Competed on ‘MasterChef Junior’ Season 6 & Had Worked at His Father’s Restaurant
Less than a year after his parents’ deaths, when he was only 11 years old, Ben competed on Season 6 of MasterChef Junior, which premiered in March 2018. He only made it into the Top 18 but became a fan favorite and was encouraged to continue dreaming of opening his own restaurant someday, Anthony Edwards told the Post-Tribune in August 2020.
Ben had cut his culinary teeth working at his father’s restaurant, Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue & Deli, which his father Michael Watkins had opened in January 2017, just months before his death, the Post-Tribune reported. Ben sold baked goods at the restaurant, including cinnamon buns and cookies, according to the outlet. The restaurant closed after Watkins’ death, but at age 11, Ben hoped “to resurrect it someday to continue his parent’s dual dream,” the Post-Tribune reported.
After Ben’s diagnosis, the MasterChef Junior cast, including Gordon Ramsay, sent him a video wishing him a speedy recovery and asking people to donate to the fundraiser to help cover his medical expenses.
Ben Was Undergoing Treatment in Chicago
According to the Kenosha News, Ben was undergoing chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago at the time of his death.
The teen’s maternal grandmother, Donna Edwards, told the outlet, “Our Ben went home to be with his mother Monday afternoon after a year-and-a-half battle with cancer. … Ben was and will always be the strongest person we’ve known.”
In July, The Grio reported that in the aftermath of his parents’ deaths, Ben’s fans and friends came together to raise $30,000 through GoFundMe for his “future endeavors.”
The GoFundMe, which has since been transformed into a memorial fund called “#Love4Ben Memorial Fund,” had raised $190,435 as of November 17.
A November 17 update on the page from Ben’s family reads, “Our Ben went home to be with his mother Monday afternoon after a year-and-a-half-long battle with Cancer. After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben’s strength, courage and love for life. He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know. When Ben’s rare illness was shared with the world, he was so heartened by the outpouring of love he received from every corner of the globe- especially here in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. We cannot thank this community enough for holding our family up in prayer and for all that you’ve done.”
The message continued, “Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on Earth but we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and in that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many.”
Ben’s Parents Died in a Murder-Suicide in 2017
On September 16, 2017, Ben’s father, Michael, shot and killed his mother, Leila Edwards, and subsequently took his own life, according to the Post-Tribune. Ben turned 11 four days after his parents’ deaths.
Ben’s grandmother, Donna Edwards, and his uncle, Anthony Edwards, told the Post-Tribune that “they saw no warning signs and don’t know exactly what caused [Michael] Watkins to do what he did.”
Donna Edwards shared with the outlet, “Sometimes it’s better not to know.”
Anthony Edwards added, “It’s been an obvious adjustment for Ben, but he’s doing well, considering everything. … We take it one day at a time.”
According to a 2017 story in the Post-Tribune, Ben kept himself busy with extracurricular activities like spell bowl, math bowl and chess club. He also volunteered to help rebuild broken bicycles for those in need through a program called “Build a Bike,” he told the outlet at the time.
His favorite subjects were math and science, and he hoped to one day work as an engineer. He told the Post-Tribune of his engineering aspirations, “It’s more reliable than being a chef.”
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