By Tyler Aquilina
November 17, 2020 at 06:42 PM EST
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Credit: Erica Parise/FOX

Ben Watkins, a contestant on season 6 of MasterChef Junior, died Monday after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 14.

"After losing both of his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben's strength, courage, and love for life," his family wrote in a statement on GoFundMe. "He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know."

Watkins was diagnosed with angiomatoid fibrous histiocytoma, an extremely rare form of cancer, shortly after his 13th birthday. Two years earlier, he lost his parents in a murder-suicide. Watkins' grandmother and uncle, who became his guardians, said he remained optimistic and outgoing despite the hardship in his life.

"Ben was just so selfless," his uncle Anthony Edwards told the Chicago Tribune. "It was unreal, the character he had."

"Ben, you were an incredibly talented home cook and even stronger young man," MasterChef Junior host Gordon Ramsay tweeted Tuesday. "Your young life had so many tough turns but you always persevered. Sending all the love to Ben Watkins' family with this terrible loss."

Fox and production company EndemolShine said in a statement, "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."

Watkins appeared on the culinary competition series at age 11, becoming a fan favorite and placing in the top 18. He began cooking at the age of 3 and aspired to be a chef, helping out at his parents' restaurant, Big Ben's Bodacious Barbecue, Bakery, and Deli (which was named after Watkins), in Gary, Ind. His hometown community and many others rallied around him over the last three years, helping to raise money to support his family.

"We cannot thank this community enough for holding our family up in prayer and for all that you've done," Watkins' family said in their statement. "Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on this 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."

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