Pete Frates, who inspired the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, dies at 34

The Boston man helped popularize the 2014 viral video craze that had celebrities and pro athletes raising money and awareness.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read

Pete Frates, who inspired the Ice Bucket Challenge, the viral-video craze of 2014, has died at age 34, his alma mater Boston College announced Monday. "Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of former BC Birdball captain Pete Frates (class of 2007)," a representative for the college tweeted. 

"BC Birdball" refers to the Boston College Eagles baseball team. Frates, who played baseball for the college, was named director of baseball operations for BC baseball in March 2012, the same month he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at age 27. ALS is also known as motor neuron disease or Lou Gehrig's disease. People affected eventually lose their ability to walk, speak and even breathe, and there is no known cure.

"Remarkably, Pete never complained about his illness," Boston College said in a statement.  "Instead, he saw it as an opportunity to give hope to other patients and their families.  In his lifetime, he was determined to change the trajectory of a disease that had no treatment or cure."

The Ice Bucket Challenge was exactly what its name says. Participants would be filmed dumping (or having someone else dump) a bucket of ice water on their heads and then challenging someone else to do the same.  Everyone from Bill Gates to George W. Bush to Oprah Winfrey gamely took it on. The challenge became interwoven with raising awareness of the disease, and participants were encouraged to donate, especially if they were challenged and chose not to participate.

Frates didn't come up with the challenge himself. It was going around the Internet with no cause attached. Pro golfer Chris Kennedy was the first to make an ALS connection, challenging friends to either dump the bucket or make an ALS donation. 

But when Frates began spreading the word of the challenge, it really took off, with numerous A-list pro athletes invoking Frates' name in their challenges. Frates himself took the challenge in the outfield at Boston's Fenway Park.

The Ice Bucket Challenge "pioneered social media fundraising and garnered donations globally that resulted in better access to ALS care, genetic discoveries, treatments and, someday, a cure," the statement says.

The ALS Association honored Frates in a tweet. Pete Frates "changed the trajectory of ALS forever and showed the world how to live with a fatal disease," the group said. "His efforts to lead the Ice Bucket Challenge had a significant impact on the search for treatments and a cure for ALS."

The bucket Frates used for his own part in the challenge, as well as his college baseball memorabilia, was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. A book, The Ice Bucket Challenge: Pete Frates and the Fight against ALS, was released in 2017. In 2018, Netflix announced plans to make a movie based on the book.

Frates is survived by his parents and siblings, and his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Lucy, who was born in August 2014, at the height of the ice bucket challenge.

"He was a beacon of hope for all," the Boston College statement said.