BENEFITS Street star Fungi – who rose to fame alongside White Dee in the controversial Channel 4 show – has died aged 50.
The unlikely star, whose real name was James Clarke, died from a heart attack triggered by a suspected drug overdose in the early hours of today.
Police and ambulance crews were called at around 2.45am but, despite attempts to revive him, he could not be saved.
The cause of death is not known but police are not treating it as suspicious.
Dad-of-four Fungi shot to fame following the notorious Channel 4 series following the residents in Winson Green, Birmingham.
He was one of the first people to appear on the show in 2014, which followed the lives of residents on James Turner Street, where about 90 per cent of locals received benefits.
On the show, Fungi revealed how he would take free hotel lobby magazines and sell them in the streets for £2.50.
Speaking to The Sun today, his ex-partner Donna Reilly, 44, who raised his eldest daughter Kirsty, 29, after kicking him out, said: “His daughter is in bits.”
Talking on the doorstep of her Birmingham home, she added: “The family are very upset, we’ve only just heard.
“It’s been a long time, about 30 years.
“The last time I saw him was at his dad’s funeral in January.
“I haven’t seen him since, I don’t keep in touch with him.”
Hours after hearing the news of his death, she wrote on Facebook: “Death leaves a heartache no can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Kirsty previously told how she was she was so disgusted by his telly antics she banned him from seeing her three kids.
She said: “My dad ruined his own life, my mum’s life, and mine. 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.”
Since appearing on the show in 2014, Fungi struggled to combat his drug and alcohol addictions and became embroiled in rows with the other stars.
In his last interview with the Sun Online, he branded White Dee a “tramp” in a tearful rant.
And he was most recently thrown into the spotlight as he labelled Universal Credit the “worst thing in the world”.
The dad-of-four said his monthly payments had been cut by more than half earlier this year, saying he had been given no explanation as to why his £500 claim had been slashed to £229.
The booze and crack addict said just a few months ago: “It causing me a hell of a lot of stress, I have to top up the gas and electric and buy food and there’s nothing left after that.
“If it wasn’t for who I am and people recognising me and giving me a few quid to get by, I would be back in jail now. I’d be stealing to survive.”
‘FIVE LITRES OF CIDER A DAY’
A pal of Fungi, who asked not to be named, said the former TV star had recently been drinking “five litres of cider a day”.
He said today: “He was living in a sustained housing hostel with ten rooms with a bloke in each.
“I used to live there and Fungi was in room two.
“I got a text at 5.30am from a bloke in there to say Fungi had been found dead and his body had been removed.
“He was still on the booze and used to get through five litres of Frosty Jack a day.
“He was a character and I will miss him.”
While stars like White Dee made a fortune on TV appearances, Fungi struggled to make ends meet. He lost his job as a Big Issue Seller and ended up sleeping rough in Birmingham.
He later found love with fellow rough sleeper Kerrie Tarbuck, 40, and the pair lived together in the sheltered accommodation in Kings Heath.
In what is believed to be the last public photo of him, he posed for a selfie alongside a fan.
Posted online on June 9, it is captioned: “Look who I bumped in (sic. Fungi from Benefit Street. Selling the Big Issue”.
In the picture – posted less than a month ago – Fungi managed half a smile but looks tired with a heavy beard and covered up in dark clothing and a hat.
‘THE FRIENDSHIP IS GONE NOW’
Five years on from Benefits Street, Fungi revealed he did not speak to any of his fellow Benefits Streets personalities.
The illiterate dad also slammed Dee for earlier comments she made blaming the show for ruining the area.
She claimed the “family” of residents on James Turner Street in Winson Green, Birmingham has been “ripped apart” by the controversial programme.
But former rough sleeper Fungi slammed her comments as disrespectful — saying: “There now isn’t a relationship”.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun Online, emotional Fungi said: “The friendship has gone now. I’m p***ed off with her.
“I’m supposed to be her family and she ignores me.
“I love and miss her kids but as for Dee, that woman plays no part in my life.
“I think it’s ridiculous she’s making these comments about the show.
“That’s a joke when you think how well she did financially off the back of it. I didn’t make a f*****g penny.”
He was a character and I will miss him
Pal Of Fungi
He had previously admitted to having a chronic drinking problem, but had proudly spoken of being clean of hard drugs for more than four years.
He claimed he was the one behind the show’s title, saying: “They wanted to call it Community Street, but I said ‘Why not Benefits Street?’ Yeah, it was my title.
“It was massive and I’m glad. I went to rehab.
“You’re only as famous as you want to be, I’m happy as I am. I’ve given three autographs, which is nice. I’m the lucky one, I’m clean. I look at life as good.”
He was beaten up by two drunks last year, leaving him with a broken jaw and heavy swelling beneath the eyes.
West Midlands Police confirmed officers were called the death of a man in his 50s today.
A spokesman said: “His death is not being treated as suspicious and will be referred to the coroner.”
A West Midlands Ambulance spokesman added: “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.”