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TikTok Star John Kelly, 'Gentle Giant' Who Went Viral with Son, Dies at 45: 'A Surprise to Us All'

People logo People 8/10/2021 Rachel DeSantis
a man drinking a glass of beer on a table: Tex Keith/Instagram Tex and John Kelly © Provided by People Tex Keith/Instagram Tex and John Kelly

John Kelly, a popular TikTok personality who frequently appeared in good-natured prank videos with his son, has died, his family said. He was 45.

Kelly's son Tex, with whom he had amassed more than 2.7 million followers on TikTok, announced his death on social media, and said it was sudden.

"Dad's passing was a surprise to us all and something that we will be feeling the toll of for a very long time," Tex wrote on a GoFundMe campaign. "John Kelly lived an amazing life, full of hard work and love. He was never negative and as many of you have experienced personally with him, he was always someone you wanted to be around because he made you feel special and loved."

a man drinking a glass of beer on a table: Tex and John Kelly © Tex Keith/Instagram Tex and John Kelly

Tex did not reveal his father's cause of death, but said he and his family, who are based in California, are "absolutely devastated."

"There was never a negative moment with him or a conversation that didn't end with 'I love you,'" Tex tells PEOPLE. "Dad was 45 years old when he passed but I'll tell ya, that man lived it with no regrets and he made sure to get the most out of every day."

The pair gained a massive following with endearing prank videos that regularly featured Tex teasing Kelly, often by starting with, "Hey dad," then saying something silly and filming his reaction.


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Though they only started sharing videos in December, the account @TexandJohn gained fans quickly, with many tuning in to watch the man Tex frequently referred to as a "gentle giant" or as "Papa Grizzly Bear."

Tex tells PEOPLE that he hopes Kelly will be remembered for his generosity.

"Dad should always be remembered for how kind and incredibly selfless he was," he says. "He'd give you his last dollar and the clothes on his back if he knew you needed it."

In the first TikTok after Kelly's death, Tex, who recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting, shared a compilation video of their sweetest moments set to "My Old Man" by Zac Brown Band.

"You'll always be my hero. Until next time Dad. I love you so much," he captioned the video.

Tex also paid tribute to his late father on Instagram, and explained that while Kelly was not his biological father, he entered the picture when he was 4 years old.

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"I remember meeting you with my mom when I was four years old and I asked 'are you my dad?' You didn't know what to say but soon enough you became that man in mine and my brother's lives. I remember the first time I called you dad, I was so scared, your face was so shocked and happy," he wrote. "You always believed in me. I'm proud to say that I'm John Kelly's son. I'm so proud of the dad you were and the relationship we had, it was something so astonishingly beautiful and special. There was never a conversation that didn't end with 'I love you boy.'"

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