Singer Kevin Sharp, a country music hitmaker who became an unwearying advocate for children with chronic diseases, died Saturday at age 43.
According to the artist's website, Sharp died of complications from "ongoing complications from past stomach surgeries and digestive issues."
Born in Redding, Calif., Sharp grew up obsessed with sports and music. A high school football and basketball player, he sat out his senior seasons in both sports due to pain in his left leg. The cause of that pain turned out to be bone cancer, and after graduation he began experimental, debilitating chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"Four months into this new treatment, a woman I'd never seen before came to my bedside in the hospital," Sharp wrote, in a 2006 story for Guideposts magazine. " 'I'm from the Make-A-Wish foundation,' she said. 'We'd like to fulfill a wish of yours. Going somewhere you've never gone. Doing something you've never done. Or meeting someone special. ... You give me the name and we'll do everything possible to make it happen.' "
Sharp realized that the Make-A-Wish foundation granted wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions, and he surmised that the woman thought that perhaps he was going to die. This realization was troubling, but not so much that he didn't quickly give her the name of David Foster, who produced his favorite band, Chicago. Soon, Sharp was in Foster's studio, attending a recording session and talking with Foster. Months later, doctors told Sharp that he'd beaten the cancer.
"If there is one thing that might be more shocking than hearing a death sentence, it's hearing that death sentence lifted," Sharp wrote. "Finding your way back into life after being taken out of it for so long is harder than you might imagine."
Sharp found his way back through music. He began writing songs and recording them, and ultimately Foster — who had kept up with the young singer's progress — helped Sharp to a recording contract with Asylum Records.
Released in 1995, his initial single, Nobody Knows, climbed to the top of the Billboardcountry charts and stayed there for a month. Follow-ups She's Sure Taking it Welland If You Love Somebody, each from his first album, Measure of a Man, were top 5 hits, and Sharp was nominated as best new male vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.
He also won the Country Music Association's New Touring Artist prize, but took greater pride in an award he received from Make-A-Wish as 1997's "Wish Granter of the Year."
Sharp's follow-up recordings did not perform as well as his initial offerings, and he struggled with health issues, undergoing emergency surgeries in 1998 and 2008. But his time in the country music spotlight made him a role model for sick children, and he shared his life story in a book called Tragedy's Gift, at concerts, at public speaking engagements and during numerous visits with cancer patients. His 2005 album for Cupit Records was entitled Make a Wish.
Sharp's health worsened in 2011, and he endured numerous surgeries for leg infections. Still, he worked to spread his hopeful message whenever possible.
"My life is performing and speaking, so not only does it keep a roof over my head, it keeps me going emotionally," he told Phyllis Stark of Country Weekly magazine in 2012. "If I didn't believe what I try to express and tell others, I wouldn't be here. Luckily, I believe in what I preach."