UPDATE #2 (11/17/18 8:45pm ET): MasterChef Junior host Gordon Ramsay tweeted the following statement about Ben’s passing:
UPDATE #1 (11/17/18 8:15pm ET): MasterChef Junior production’s EndemolShine North America and FOX Entertainment released the following statement about Ben: “It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Ben Watkins, a beloved member of the MasterChef Junior family. Ben overcame so much in his life with a remarkably positive attitude. He was a tremendous role model for chefs of all ages and will be dearly missed by everyone at EndemolShine North America and FOX Entertainment.”
Ben Watkins had so many challenges in his young life, but cooking was his joy. The 14-year-old has passed away on Nov. 16 after battling a rare soft tissue tumor called angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, of which he was only diagnosed with in 2019 after turning 13. Ben competed on Gordon Ramsay‘s MasterChef Junior season six when he was only 11-years-old and quickly became a fan favorite.
“We were praying for a different outcome,” Ben’s uncle and guardian Anthony Edwards told the Chicago Tribune upon his passing. “But Ben’s lungs could no longer give him the air he needed to breathe. It’s been devastating.” He noted that Ben spent the summer in the intensive care until, where “a golf ball-sized growth in Ben’s neck had spread into a grapefruit-sized tumor.” Eventually the tumors destroyed Ben’s lung in September and soon his right lung began collapsing. “We cannot thank this community enough for holding our family up in prayer and for all that you’ve done,” Ben’s family said in a public statement. “Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know.” We’ve for five things to know about Ben.
1. Ben’s form of cancer was extremely rare. His uncle Anthony said that Ben was one of six people in the world to receive the rare diagnosis. The teen from Gary, Indiana began undergoing treatment including chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
2. Ben lost both of his parents to a domestic violence incident. His mother and father Leila Edwards, 43, and Mike Watkins, 46, died in a Sept. 2017 murder-suicide. He was then left an orphan and raised by his uncle Anthony and grandmother Donna Edwards. They told the Chicago Tribune that they saw no warning signs and had no idea what caused Watkins to commit such a horrific act.
3. Ben helped out at his parents’ restaurant, where he developed his love of cooking. Before his parents’ sad deaths, Ben worked at their Gary, Indiana restaurant Big Ben’s Bodacious Barbecue, Bakery & Deli. The couple even named the restaurant after their son. Sadly it closed within a month of his parents’ passing.
4. Ben made the top 20 during his season of MasterChef Junior. Of the 40 season six contestants who ranged in age from eight to 14, Ben took 18th place. While he missed out on the $100,000 grand prize, he won the hearts of fans.
5. Ben’s community rallied around him with a GoFundMe account following the death of his parents. It read: “The #Love4Ben campaign was originally intended to support Ben and his family after the passing of his parents in 2017. Due to the generosity of so many, we were able to establish a trust fund of nearly $30,000 at Peoples Bank in Munster, Indiana.” The family noted that Ben’s dream was to become an engineer, or possibly pursue an education in the culinary arts, and the money would go towards his schooling. After his cancer diagnosis, the funds grew larger as the money then went to help pay for his medical costs. It was at $190K at the time of Ben’s passing.