Brian Barczyk, known worldwide for his infectious fascination with reptiles and overall enthusiasm with life, has died following 10 days in hospice care after a inoperable battle with pancreatic cancer.
Mr. Barczyk died peacefully Sunday, surrounded by his family and loved ones. He was 54.
Staff members at his Reptarium Reptile Zoo in Utica made the announcement Monday on social media. They called him “an exceptional individual – a visionary, mentor, and friend” in their online tribute.
“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 staff wrote.
The post from Reptarium Reptile Zoo workers went on to say: “For those of us who had the privilege of working alongside him, Brian’s absence leaves an immeasurable void. 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.”
Mr. Barczyk released news of his stage four pancreatic cancer diagnosis almost a year ago and shared an emotional farewell video last week. He was diagnosed on Feb. 27, 2023, with stage two pancreatic cancer, but it quickly advanced.
He had more than 5 million subscribers on YouTube, where he shares his adventures with snakes, alligators and other critters in videos or “vlogs.” His outgoing personality made him a media favorite, including as a star on the TV series Venom Hunters by the Discovery Channel.
He reportedly owned the third largest collection of snakes in the world with over 30,000 snakes.
Utica Mayor Gus Calandrino called Mr. Barczyk “one of the brightest shining lights in Utica.”
“He can not be replaced but we must all follow his direction and strive to live our best lives based on Brian’s example of love and kindness,” the mayor said in a statement.
Mr. Barczyk, who had loved animals since he was a child, opened The Reptarium reptile zoo in Utica six years ago. The facility now houses some 3,000 critters including bearded dragons, a python and others.
His newest adventure spot, LegaSea Aquarium, a 30,000-square-foot, interactive zoo and aquarium, is expected to open in March. It will feature sharks, stingrays, a variety of fish and reptiles. The facility will also feature a tank to swim with stingrays, a stingray touching station, feeding opportunities, and a shark tank.
“For those of us who had the privilege of working alongside him, Brian’s absence leaves an immeasurable void,” the staff 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.”
The Barczyk family invites his friends, customers and others to be part of a public memorial walk-through to honor his memory from 1-3 p.m. Wednesday at Heritage Church, at 44625 Schoenherr Road (south of Hall Road) in Sterling Heights.
Stephanie Kent, the reptile zoo’s marketing director, said one of the ways they will honor Mr. Barczyk’s legacy will be through LegaSea wall plaques, which will grace the entrance of the LegaSea Aquarium, a lasting tribute to be unveiled when the aquarium opens its doors.
“This initiative is more than a tribute; it’s a way to intertwine Brian’s spirit with the very essence of the Aquarium from the outset,” Kent wrote in an email. “The plaques, collectively forming a ‘sea’ at the Grand Opening, will be a poignant reminder of the love and respect we all hold for Brian.”
Guests will also have the opportunity to place their hands into Mr. Barczyk’s handprints when the aquarium opens.
Mr. Barczyk is survived his wife of 31 years, Lori, and their children Noah and Jade.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages people to visit thereptarium.com/pages/brianbarczyk.