Brian Barczyk, a reptile evangelist on YouTube and TV, dies at 54
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Brian Barczyk, a reptile evangelist on YouTube and TV, dies at 54
An undated photo provided by Brian Barczyk shows reptile expert and TV personality Brian Barczyk in 2021. Barczyk, a world-famous reptile expert whose upbeat videos attracted millions of fans on social media and who starred in the reality TV show “Venom Hunters” on Discovery died on Jan. 14, 2024, at his home in Michigan. He was 54. (Brian Barczyk via The New York Times)

by Sopan Deb

NEW YORK, NY.- Brian Barczyk, a world-famous reptile expert whose upbeat videos attracted millions of fans on social media and who starred in the reality TV show “Venom Hunters” on Discovery, died Sunday at his home in Michigan. He was 54.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Stephanie Kent, a representative for The Reptarium, a reptile zoo that Barczyk founded with his wife, Lori Barczyk, in Utica, Michigan.

Brian Barczyk’s love of reptiles began as a boy. He has said his earliest memory was coming across a ball python at the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit.

“I remember that like it was yesterday, and ever since, I’ve just been obsessed,” Barczyk told the Hollywood Soapbox in 2016. “No one taught me this obsession. I always tell people, I was born with a reptile gene because it’s just in me. I spent every summer catching garter snakes out in the local woods.”

A native of southeast Michigan, Barczyk spent decades commercially breeding snakes. His company, BHB Reptiles, had tens of thousands of the reptiles in a warehouse at any given point, Barczyk told The Detroit Free Press in 2015. His customers included Saul Hudson, better known as Slash, the guitarist from Guns N’ Roses.

His rise to prominence began with the 2008 launch of an educational YouTube channel, SnakeBytesTV, as well as posting from his personal webpage. The videos are cheerful how-tos on various snake-related topics, including some in which Barczyk explains how to safely breed and transport them, how to deal with snake bites and why, contrary to popular opinion, the bites aren’t so bad (depending on the snake).

At the time of his death, Barczyk’s following on YouTube had grown to more than 5 million, while his TikTok account has more than 7 million followers. He also had an Instagram account with 1.7 million followers.

Asked once on Reddit to name his favorite python, he wrote in response in the Ask Me Anything thread: “I just can’t pick. It’s like asking a Mom to pick their favorite child. I love them all.”

His biggest break came when he was tapped to star in “Venom Hunters,” which ran for six episodes on the Discovery Channel in 2016. In the show, Barczyk was one of several experts who traveled to far-flung locations to harvest venom from the world’s most poisonous snakes.

He wore his passion on his sleeve. “The whole idea behind it is that interaction, No. 1, and to also get people super excited about animals,” Barczyk told the Free Press in 2018 when the reptile zoo opened.

Brian Henry Barczyk was born Sept. 6, 1969, and was raised by his mother and stepfather, Karen and Mike Miller. He is survived by his wife and their children, Jade Albrecht, 31, and Noah Barczyk, 24, as well as two grandchildren.

Barczyk had announced that he was starting hospice care in a video posted on his YouTube page on Jan. 5 with the title, “This Is Goodbye.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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