Terminally ill Jewish teen, who inspired multitudes with Katy Perry song, dies aged 16

Olivia Wise stole hearts with rendition of popular singer’s ‘Roar’; the Toronto native passed away at her home after losing battle with brain cancer

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Toronto teen Olivia Wise, who died of brain cancer, inspired millions of people worldwide with her rendition of Katy Perry's hit song "Roar." (Courtesy of Jeff Kassel)
Toronto teen Olivia Wise, who died of brain cancer, inspired millions of people worldwide with her rendition of Katy Perry's hit song "Roar." (Courtesy of Jeff Kassel)

Olivia Wise, the 16-year-old Jewish Toronto girl who inspired many thousands of people worldwide, died from brain cancer on Monday. Wise gained widespread attention, including from pop star Katy Perry, after a video of her singing Perry’s hit song “Roar” was posted to YouTube. The video, made at a recording studio in September, when Wise was already too weak to stand, has gotten over a million views.

Jeff Kassel, Wise’s cousin, told The Times of Israel that she passed away at home on Monday afternoon, surrounded by family, including her mother Kari, father Michael, older sister Kaily, younger sister Sabrina and younger brother Jason.

Wise, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2012, shortly after her 15th birthday, was reportedly buoyed by a video message Perry sent her. “It was the last thing she was aware of,” said Kassel. “She was unconscious for the last couple of weeks after that.”

Wise was consequently unaware of the recent tribute video and scrapbooks made for her by some 1,500 Ontario high school and university students, or of special recognition given to her in the Ontario Legislative Assembly on November 18 by MPP Michael Harris.

“Today, I rise to honor a special young lady named Olivia Wise who has impacted the lives of millions of people, including myself,” the member from Kitchener-Conestoga said. Harris, who represents an electoral district in which Wise does not reside, told the provincial parliament about a fund in Wise’s name for pediatric brain cancer research and treatment. He concluded his speech by saying, “My wish for Olivia is that her legacy inspires others to keep fighting.”

“Michael Harris’ speech just cemented Olivia’s legacy in another institution,” Kassel reflected. “It’s amazing how many people she was able to inspire in such a short time.”

Kassel said Wise’s family and friends will remember her as “a loving, caring, beautiful, joyful person.” He suggested that she will likely also have a more far-reaching legacy, given the public profile she attained at the end of her life.

“Olivia was an unforgettable person. Thinking of her will be a reminder to all of us to enjoy life and not worry about whatever we think our problems are. She was a shining example of how to keep perspective.”

News of Wise’s passing has spread quickly through the Toronto community and beyond. Her funeral and burial are scheduled for Tuesday.

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