Last night's episode opened with a stunning dedication – "Tonight's show is dedicated to the memory of Matt Hughes, 1979-2010. His family asked that his last chase be included in tonight's episode." I was shocked to get this bit of news, but I knew SOMETHING had happened, since next weeks' episode talks about dealing with the death of a team member in Comcast's on-screent TV Guide.
Matt joined the show last season as one of IMAX filmmaker Sean Casey's meterologists, and this season he moved into the lead chase vehicle, the TIV, or "Tornado Intercept Vehicle". Much of this season has been about the back and forth about Sean trusting Matt enough to get him to the tornado so he could film the impact on the TIV. IN last nights' episode, Sean finally relinquished and let Matt do what he was being paid for. And he did his job perfectly, getting Sean inside a tornado with windspeeds of about 120 MPH.
Because of the way the title card was done at the beginning of the episode, I was sure Matt must have been killed as a result of something going horribly wrong during the chase. I was relieved to find out that wasn't true – that he had been killed in a "fatal accident" at home a week after the chase had been filmed.
Because I am a longtime fan of the show, I feel like these people are part of an extended family, and I was distressed to know that Matt had died over 5 months ago, and I didn't know it. I also felt angry and happy at the same time – watch Season 4 Episode 4, "Dedication", and you'll understand why – angry that he died so young, happy that he got to experience what he was out there for, in the perfect way – his excitement and elation of doing his job well was so evident on his face that it made you extremely happy.
I knew I was going to write something today about this, and how I will miss Matt's somewhat haughty oncamera commentary – he was SURE he was right about his abilities, and in the end, he WAS – and how much different the show will feel without him. I will never be able to listen to that funky version of "Over The Rainbow" (which I know by Jason Castro – I think the original, which they used last night – is by John Mayer) without thinking of Matt and the tribute they did to him at the end of the show.
And now…thanks to my research this morning on HOW Matt died…I also know how truly sad his death really is…because in doing my research this morning, I found out that it was NOT an accident – as reported by the Wichita Eagle newspaper and local TV station KAKE, Matt, who had battled depression for much of his 30 years on the planet, apparenly took his own life.
I will never understand why it happened – I didn't personally know the man. But I know that I will REALLY miss him now. I feel for his family, for his chase family, and for the millions of fans like myself who got to know him through the series.
Matt is survived by his wife Kendra, and two young sons, Hunter and Collin. Discovery Channel has established a memorial fund in Matt's name for his family. If you can find it in your heart, please make a small donation.
Matthew John Hughes Memorial Fund
c/o Intrust Bank
142 North Ash
Valley Center, Kansas 67147
Matt lived for doing one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet in the hopes of finding ways to make living in tornado prone areas safer.
Godspeed, Matt…you will be missed…and while you're up there, it's still your job to watch over your old friends and help keep them all safe…just as you did when you were in the TIV…may you find peace always…