Rodriguez’s died at his Schenectady, N.Y., home on Thursday, according to the Times Union. His parents told reporters that the cause of death was suicide.
Rodriguez earned instant fame online when he posted a photo of himself holding his cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, in front of a background crisscrossed with laser beams, and a large photo of the cat’s head. He received thousands of signatures for a petition to have the photo used as his official school yearbook portrait.
The school did not use it as his official portrait, but the school’s principal Diane Wilkinson later took a photo with the same background, holding her pet chihuahua Vivienne.
“He made friends wherever he went,” Rodriguez’s father, Jonathan Stewart, told the Times Union. “He had friends all over the country … people he’d met at youth leadership conferences, online, just around town.”
Messages of condolences flooded his Facebook and Instagram accounts when news of his death broke.
“Rest In Peace ❤”
“Rest In Peace, beautiful, funny, amazing boy. I am sorry that it was too painful for you to stick around. ❤”
“I’m saddened to know that you have passed. You touched many hearts. Rest In Peace. :'(“
“So sorry to hear you’re gone. You seemed like a great kid with a bright future.”
“Rest in paradise. fly high draven.”
Rodriguez spoke with the Daily Gazette after the photo went viral.
“I don’t want to go in the yearbook with the generic ‘I-look-like-everyone-else’photo,” he said. “I wanted a ‘He looks great. Only he would try that’ photo.”
He added, “When people look at it, they will know that was me.”
Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time.
Rodriguez is survived by Stewart; his mother, Melissa Petersen-Stewart; his 11-year-old sister, Lily Stewart; his biological father, Erik Rodriguez;
Rodriguez’s wife, Amy; and many other family members.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You can check out the video of Jimmy Fallon riffing on Rodriguez’s picture here, via NBC: