'More than the guiding light': Brian Barczyk dies at 54 after battling pancreatic cancer

Brian Barczyk posed with a two-toed sloth named Drogo in a habitat of his business in Utica on June 23, 2023.

Beloved reptile enthusiast and content creator Brian Barczyk died on Sunday. He was 54.

The herpetologist, with over 5 million subscribers on YouTube, recently said he entered hospice care due to Stage 4 inoperable pancreatic cancer. He first shared his diagnosis publicly in a March 2023 video.

The Reptarium, the zoo Barczyk owned in Utica, Michigan, announced his death on his social media pages with "profound sorrow."

"More than the guiding light of our organization, Brian’s fervent passion for reptiles and wildlife, along with his steadfast dedication to education, has touched innumerable hearts and minds globally," the post said.

The post expressed deep condolences with Barczyk's family, friends and all the lives he has touched.

"We’ve lost an exceptional individual – a visionary, mentor, and friend. For those of us who had the privilege of working alongside him, Brian’s absence leaves an immeasurable void," the post said. "As we navigate this difficult time, we find comfort in the memories and the lasting light of Brian’s work. He will be deeply missed but indeed, never forgotten."

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Dream Aquarium will feature Brian Barczyk’s handprints

Barczyk was unfortunately unable to see the complete LegaSea Aquarium, a longtime dream of his to open an interactive reptile zoo, before his passing.

The Reptarium said when the aquarium opens, visitors will find his handprints so they can place their hands in his to continue "his legacy in a simple, yet powerful gesture." The exhibit, which will feature an interactive reptile zoo in a 25,000-square-foot former thrift store, hopes to open by March, according to the The Reptarium's website.

The Reptarium owner Brian Barczyk, center, talks with animal educator Amy Karjala, left, as he holds a Capybara, a new addition to his business, in Utica on June 23, 2023.

"Brian, we will see you in the next one. Everyone else, see you at LegaSea," the post read.

Barczyk's family will also hold a memorial at the Public Memorial Walk in Utica's on Heritage Church on Wednesday afternoon. Instead of flowers, the family shared ways fans can support on a web page dedicated to Barczyk.

Barczyk told the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, in June that he wants Macomb County and the broader area community to know that he will always offer a place for visitors to get their hands wet and horizons broadened "regardless of whether I live one year or 25 years."

'It's been an amazing journey'

In his last YouTube video, Barczyk thanked those who visited his reptile zoo and those who supported his work with snakes, geckos, lizards and other reptiles.

"It's been an amazing journey and one that has changed my life. Each one of you has changed my life like you can't believe," he said in the tearful video. "You never die until the last person speaks your name. My hope that the LegaSea Aquarium, my legacy throughout everything, is going to last a long time."

Barczyk said his team will continue to post videos on the channel after his death and hopes fans will continue show up for the content.

"We're going to tell great stories and we're going inspire people whether it's me or not. I hope you will continue to watch the vlog," Barczyk said. "I wish I was going to be there manning the front of it but let's keep getting people to love animals and wildlife and have experiences and dedicate their life to animals. If that happens I'm happy."