‘Varsity Blues’ Actor Ron Lester Dead at 45

Character actor Ron Lester, best known for playing Billy Bob in Varsity Blues, has died. He was 45.

EW confirmed Lester died Friday evening of liver and kidney failure. He had been in intensive care in a Dallas hospital for a few months and then was transferred to hospice care.

Lester started his career in the 1997 Nickelodeon movie Good Burger, but gained notice when he starred as the offensive lineman Billy Bob in the 1999 high-school football movie, which also starred James Van Der Beek and Jon Voight. It’s Billy Bob who scores the winning touchdown in the film’s final climactic game.

The actor compared the character and his experience making the film to his own life. “I had the same feelings that my character had,” he recently told MovieWeb. “Jon Voight is like a father figure to me, and after doing this movie, he’s just the greatest mentor I had. There were times, like in those scenes where he was chewing me out, I allowed the emotion to come out, because it was real.”

He later starred on The WB show Popular for its two seasons and spoofed his Varsity Blues character in Not Another Teen Movie.

Lester once weighed 508 pounds and underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2000. He said in an interview with Grantland that there were complications during the surgery, and he actually flatlined, but he ultimately lost over 300 pounds, including 100 pounds in the ensuing month-and-a-half after surgery.

The actor talked about losing the weight, having to rebuild his career but how it changed his life. Speaking with BodyBuilding.com, he explained, “The difference is that I am no longer the ‘funny fat guy.’ I sold my ‘niche’ for my chance to live. … I would never trade the life I have now with… the endless opportunities I have in store for me, with my old life.”

Lester had recently been working on a racing and coming-of-age movie, Racing Legacy, which he wrote and co-directed.

He is survived by his fiancée, Jennifer Worland.