Benefits Street star Fungi ‘killed himself after cancer diagnosis’

Benefits Street star Fungi, 50, ‘killed himself after being diagnosed with cancer and left a suicide note saying he didn’t want his girlfriend to see him in pain’, friend reveals

  • Fungi, whose real name was James Clarke, became famous on Channel 4 show
  • Viewer paid £11k for him to go through rehab to beat booze and crack addiction
  • But last year he was back on the streets until he found a place in a local hostel
  • Police and paramedics were called yesterday morning but he could not be saved 

Benefits Street star Fungi died in Birmingham yesterday at the age of 50 after a heart attack

Benefits Street star Fungi killed himself after struggling to cope with a cancer diagnosis while a documentary was being made about him, his friend said today following his death aged 50.

The father-of-four, real name James Clarke, was found by paramedics in cardiac arrest in the early hours of yesterday at a house for recovering drug addicts in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Fungi, who starred in the 2014 Channel 4 documentary alongside the likes of White Dee, Black Dee and Smoggy, was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the friend who found his body, Fungi had been diagnosed with cancer and left a suicide note for his girlfriend Kerrie Tarbuck, 40, because he did not want her to see him in pain.

And it also emerged today that Fungi died before a documentary about him which would have culminated in him recording a pop record was finished.

His friend Dave Wilde, 52, said: ‘We had not seen him for a few days so we went round the house to check on him and the people there had not seen him either so I took the door off and there he was.

In April 2016, Benefits Street star Fungi looked much healthier after a viewer paid for him to go through rehab but he descended back into drink and drugs before his death

‘He left a note to his girlfriend Kerrie saying how much he loved her and that she was his world but he did not want to her to see him go through pain and that he just had enough.

‘It is just tragic no-one had checked on him to see if he was OK, but he was in a lot of pain with the cancer.

‘He had knocked the drugs on the head and was doing really well before he got cancer, and he was in a lot of pain at the end. He was having trouble with his legs.

‘We loved him, there is a big hole in a lot of people’s lives now he has gone. We got on really well, he had done some dodgy things to get money, but he did not have a nasty bone in his body.

‘He was a good guy, the world is a darker place without him. Life dealt him s*** cards but he got on with it and was loved.’

Free Radio DJ Ben Kane, 32, had been making a documentary about him after hearing how it was his dream to record and release ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home.’

Fungi, real name James Clarke, was supported by mother figure White Dee on the show (pictured together in 2014) but they later fell out after he claimed fame had changed her

He said: ‘I used to see him around and he knew I was a musician and told me he really wanted to record a song.

‘He was always very chatty but said in May that he had cancer and really needed to record the song.

‘So we decided to make a documentary about him and recording the song but unfortunately he did not have as long as we thought. We got about half way through.

‘He did not speak about his illness that often but would talk about the future and said he could not wait to record the song so we would not have thought we did not have enough time.

‘He wanted to raise money for dementia charities as his dad had the disease. We had got about half way through our interviews but had not recorded the song.

‘There are not many people in the world who I know ten out of ten times will make me smile. He was a complicated person, there was more to him than a lot of people realised.

James Clarke was living in this shared accommodation in Kings Heath, Birmingham, where he died this morning (pictured today)

‘I think the term lovable rogue was probably made for him. He was very proud that he had kicked drugs after an anonymous donor paid for him to go to rehab.

‘He was very proud his dad had seen him off the drugs but regretted his mother had not seen that. He was open about his alcohol addiction.’

‘We covered a lot during our interviews and there is some important issues raised about mental health and addiction but also some fun stuff too, so I am not sure what we are going to do now as everything has changed with his death.’ 

Fungi became famous on the Channel 4 show about James Turner Street in Birmingham where nine out of ten residents were on benefits.

While stars like White Dee made a fortune and became celebrities, Fungi struggled with addiction, lost his job as a Big Issue seller and ended up sleeping rough.

He quit drink and drugs after a viewer paid £11,500 to put him through rehab and he looked to have turned his life around in 2016.

James Clarke, pictured with his daughter Kirsty in Birmingham in 1990, and right in 2014 when he became a star of Benefits Street

But he was unable to beat addiction and found himself back on the streets, spending his benefits on ten cans of super-strength cider each day while also taking crack cocaine.

Recently he had moved into a hostel for addicts in his home city but was found dead yesterday – and his family later admitted they hadn’t seen him for six months.

Fungi (pictured six years ago) had spent years battling addiction to drink and crack cocaine

His ex-partner Donna, who brought up his daughter Kirsty, took to Facebook after his death today and posted: ‘Death leaves a heartache no can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal’.

She added later: ‘The family are very upset, we’ve only just heard’, adding: ‘His daughter is in bits.’

Police have said they were called to a property with paramedics at 2.45am yesterday and found Mr Clarke unresponsive and he could not be saved.

Last year he had a bitter spat with White Dee, who supported him in the show, branding her a ‘tramp’ after claiming that fame had changed her.

He found love with fellow rough sleeper Miss Tarbuck, and the pair lived together in sheltered accommodation in Kings Heath.

He was last seen in public in January when he dubbed Universal Credit ‘the worst thing in the world’ after his monthly payments were cut by more than half.

He said the phased introduction of the all-in-one benefit was causing ‘hell’ for him and others experiencing hard times.

James Turner Street, aka ‘Benefits Street’ in Birmingham, featured in a Channel 4 show 

He had been claiming £500 a month to spend on food and sundries but this was slashed to £229 for reasons which he said have not been explained to him.

Mr Clarke said his drinking habit means he cannot work and said people giving him a ‘couple of quid’ from time to time now helps him survive.

James Clarke, pictured with his daughter Kirsty in 1991, had been estranged from his family before his death today

But he admitted his and his partner spent more than £160-a-month on extra-strength cider.

Benefits Street, which aired in 2014, followed the lives of benefits claimants living on James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham .

Dividing opinion among viewers and critics, Benefits Street was dubbed ‘poverty porn’ after it first aired on Channel 4.

Mr Clarke failed to profit from his fame, however, with one of his lowest ebbs coming in October 2016, when he was sleeping rough under Birmingham’s Chinese Pagoda and drinking ten cans of super-strength cider and lager a day.

After the show aired in 2014, he was seen in Cardiff begging passers-by for change, and claiming he had been ‘exploited’ by the makers of the documentary series, who ‘made their money out of me’.

Fungi said that he had family but did not want to stay with them as it would be ‘disrespectful’.

White Dee’s heartwarming relationship with Fungi made him one of the stars of Benefits Street

But his 23-year-old daughter Kirsty said he was banned even from seeing his three grandchildren.

She said earlier this year: ‘It might sound horrible but my dad has ruined his own life, my mum’s life and mine.

His 23-year-old daughter Kirsty said before his death that her father was banned from seeing his three grandchildren

‘He deserves to be living on the streets. He blames everyone but himself for his problems. He has used up all his chances but he’s still blaming people for his situation.

‘Maybe being homeless will teach him, once and for all, to pull himself together and stop taking drugs and drinking his life away.’

Ash Chowhan, 35, has been the housing manager of the property where Fungi lived. He said: ‘It’s so sad, I got the news at 3am this morning that Fungi had passed away.

‘The tenants at the house told me they went into his room and saw him dead in his room. It’s very sad news because Fungi was a very good tenant of ours. 

‘He was just a nice guy, it’s just sad to see him go like this. Every time I went by I used to chat with him, he was a great guy. He used to be a big issue seller.

‘We would provide support for him in the accommodation. Just last week he was saying to me that he was going to turn his life around, changing his drinking habits.

‘It’s sad and shocking news, we’ve know him for a good few years. I don’t know the full story, but I think the tenants must have knocked his door and opened and then found him.

‘One of the tenants mentioned that Fungi had left a suicide note but I never really asked him much in the way of details.

‘We phoned the ambulance and police and we’ve just left the situation in their hands. This has never happened before in my two years of managing the building.

‘I knew Fungi from before that, he was homeless and we helped him find a place to stay. I couldn’t sleep after it, it was so shocking, Fungi was a good man.

‘I would like to pay a tribute to him some time in the future were all of our tenants get together and do something big for him.

‘Maybe in Moseley Village which is where he used to chill out, so we can remember the man, Fungi.’

A West Midlands Police spokesman said: ‘Police were called after the body of a man believed to be in his 50s was discovered at an address in Vicarage Road, Kings Heath Small Heath around 2.45am.

‘His death is not being treated as suspicious and will be referred to the coroner.’

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: ‘At 2.52am one ambulance was sent to an address on Vicarage Road, Kings Heath after receiving a call from West Midlands Police.

‘On arrival crews found a patient in cardiac arrest. Unfortunately nothing could be done to save him and he was confirmed dead at the scene.’ 

For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local Samaritans branch or click here for details  

What became of the other stars of Channel 4’s Benefits Street?

White Dee 

Benefits Street star White Dee said her ‘street family’ was ripped apart by the TV show – and she left the area.

The reality TV star, whose real name is real name Deidre Kelly, moved away from James Turner Street in Winson Green and the neighbours she grew to love.

After the success of Benefits Street , Dee went on to make TV and magazine appearances and then made Handsworth her new home. 

White Dee no longer sees those featured in the hit Channel 4 programme first aired back in 2014 – such as Black Dee and Fungi and 50p Man.

In the show, Dee had a heartwarming relationship with lovable rogue Fungi who has continued to struggled with homelessness and drink and drugs.

She last year: ‘I haven’t spoken to anyone shown in the documentary though I do still speak to people on the street.

‘It is the one sad thing. I do think it was one of the biggest regrets ever. We were like one massive family.

‘But how it was portrayed by the TV editing ripped us apart. 

Black Dee 

Benefits Street star Black Dee was jailed for seven years for keeping live ammunition in her home – where she ran an ‘open-all-hours’ drug business.

Samora Roberts, 34, was found in possession of over £5,000 of Class A drugs as well as bullets which she hid in a pink trainer under a washing basket.

She admitted seven counts of possessing cannabis with intent to supply and was found guilty of possessing crack cocaine and heroin in January last year.

Roberts was also found guilty of two counts of possessing 11 .38 Smith and Wesson cartridges without a firearms certificate.

Judge Philip Parker QC jailed Roberts for seven years at Birmingham Crown Court where he accused her of running an open-all-hours’ drug business from her home on James Turner Street, which was better known as the location of Channel Four’s Benefits Street.

Samora was one of the first Benefits Street residents to hit out at Channel 4 producers for ‘exploiting’ locals when the show aired in January 2014.

She later had a public spat with former pal White Dee, claiming she was a ‘sell out’ for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother .

SMOGGY, AKA ’50p man’

Door-to-door salesman Smoggy, real name Stephen Smith, became affectionately known as ’50p Man’ after selling cut-price household wares to the residents of Benefits Street.

His entrepreneurial spirit captured the attention of millionaire and Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins, who offered him a £10,000 deal to open a 50p discount store to rival Poundland.

Unfortunately, the fell out and the business venture did not happen. 

Mr Mullins claimed Smoggy could have become a millionaire and blamed ‘bad advice from people around him’ for the deal falling through. 

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