‘Dakota’ Fred Hurt rose to prominence on 28 October 2011, through the debut of the second season of Discovery Channel’s super-famous TV series entitled “Gold Rush.” He quickly became a fan favorite due to his no-nonsense approach to gold mining, as well as significant experience with machinery.
The producers were pleasantly surprised by how well Dakota was influencing the viewership, deciding to keep him on the screen throughout various other titles that are also on the topic of seeking riches in the soil.
Fred had remained a strong TV-screen presence since then, appearing in a total of eight titles throughout his career in the entertainment industry. His biggest success in that field is undeniably the show that the Discovery network created just for him, entitled “Gold Rush: White Water.” The series is set in the wilds of Alaska, where it followed the gold mining adventures of the Dakota Boys, namely Fred and his son Dustin.
While Hurt was indeed in his late 70s when the series began airing, the audience most definitely didn’t expect that he would be fighting for his life in just a few seasons. Fred himself hoped for at least another decade of gold fevering, and so the events that transpired instead of the planned seventh installment of the series continue to shock the world.
Who really was Fred Hurt?
Fred Hurt, more commonly known as Dakota Fred, was born on 10 July 1943, in the city of Minot, North Dakota USA. A little known fact about the star is that it’s exactly this birthplace that inspired the nickname “Dakota”. ‘BigFoot’ is his much less popular moniker, whose origins aren’t as clear.
He was drawn to exploring the great outdoors as a very young boy, particularly the aquatic world. Fred spent countless hours fishing, which was a hobby he had such passion for that it ended up affecting his academic performance, with his grades improving only much later on in high school. His fascination with everything aquatic brought him into diving sports, initially near Padre Island, right off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Dakota spent a great portion of his early youth doing all things oceanic, and seriously considering a career in marine biology. He decided to pursue a different path, however, upon discovering that the pay in this field was not as lucrative as he had hoped. After high school he enrolled in college to study geology, but he didn’t progress far in this field either.
He eventually settled into doing some real work, particularly as a commercial diver in the Gulf of Mexico. This job allowed him to acquire skills in underwater demolition, construction, and salvage. His strong work ethic eventually led him to establish his own construction company, which he successfully ran for about 25 years before leaving in 2004.
Dakota’s love life
Fred’s first wife remains a mystery, though it’s known through the publicly shared information of the Discovery Channel that he had been in a total of three marriages. Lorrayne Frances Leier brought him joy again, as well as children, but passed away in 2015 after a long and arduous battle with an unspecified illness.
His third and final vowing was to Jennifer Harris-Sheets, whom he married in 2016. She became a fellow reality TV personality upon appearing alongside her husband on screen, cooking for the hardworking mining crews engaged in the arduous task of extracting gold from the creeks set within the landscape of Haines Borough, Alaska.
Dakota is only known to have fathered Dustin Hurt, born in 1977 with Lorrayne in New Orleans, Louisiana. He later followed in his father’s footsteps and became a gold miner, featuring in seven out of eight titles that Dakota took part in.
What the show is all about
The premise of Hurt’s special spin-off “Gold Rush: White Water” has been highly attractive to gold aficionados for a number of years. Unlike traditional gold mining, which is typically done on solid ground, the Dakota Boys carry out their operations in white water rapids.
This method of mining is not only more challenging, but also comes with a significant warning label. Those aching to get rich must dive into freezing waterfalls to reach the gold that lies beneath, wherein the series showcases the extreme lengths that these miners are willing to go to in their quest for gold.
The first season aired in 2018, set in Alaska’s McKinley Creek, when the Dakota Boys and their team of intrepid miners set up their mining operation at the bottom of the creek’s waterfalls. The crew faced numerous challenges, including the harsh Alaskan weather, the treacherous terrain, and the ever-present danger of the white water rapids.
The second installment saw the team at the original spot, but this time they had a new tool at their disposal – a state-of-the-art dredge. This machine allowed them to mine more efficiently and effectively, although it also came with a brand-new set of challenges. The team had to learn how to operate the dredge and deal with the problems arising throughout the excavation process, one at a time.
The third season saw the team venture to a new location – the Chilkat Mountains, where they faced even more extreme conditions. The experienced miners had to contend with avalanches, rock slides, and the threat of hypothermia.
2021 saw the crew double their efforts there, with the fourth season marked by a significant discovery – the largest nugget that the team had ever found. This find served to bolster their spirits and greatly increase viewership, as they had effectively achieved a gold miner’s dream.
Seasons five and six were equally as exciting, but now it remains an unanswered question – whether the family will be able to move on from the devastating blow of losing their patriarch, and how Dustin will adjust to not having the most experienced miner around during the excavations.
Near the jackpot
The video entitled “One Last Glory Hole Test | Gold Rush” showcases one of the more thrilling episodes of “Gold Rush,” in which the father and son duo first gained fame across the media outlets. It was uploaded on 2 December 2013 and has since garnered almost 100,000 views, as it captures one of the most intense interactions between the two, with both their lives at risk.
A glory hole refers to a pit or excavation that has been dug into the ground to access mineral deposits, most of the time deep and narrow, resembling a hole. They are created when miners identify a valuable mineral deposit beneath the surface, and they excavate the surrounding rock and soil so as to be able to extract it.
Fred is not ready to give up on the excavation quite yet, as he instructs for the drilling to proceed. This location is perilously close to an unstable wall, adding a layer of danger to their endeavor. They are already 100ft (30m) down, and if they have to dig more than another 20ft (6m) to reach the bedrock, they risk triggering a catastrophic collapse.
The deeper they drill, the more rocks shake loose from above, at which Dustin, operating the machinery, is visibly concerned. He tries to juggle his attention between controlling the rumbling metal and the increasingly unstable wall above them. They ultimately drill another 24ft (7.3m) down, but there’s still no sign of the bedrock.
The mood becomes somber as Fred finally admits defeat, telling his son to halt the machine. It initially seems that all their grueling effort has been in vain, but just as they are about to give up, something catches Fred’s eye. He notices a change in the color of the soil pouring out of the newly created drill hole, which indicates that it’s a fine, sandy mixture – a distinct layer of loam dirt that could indicate the presence of bedrock just a little bit lower.
An ancient creek gradually wore away the riverbed thousands of years ago, depositing sandy particles along with gold on the bedrock. If the material from the drill hole is indeed sitting on it, they could be moments away from striking gold. The video ends on this cliffhanger, leaving viewers in suspense about whether Fred and Dustin have finally hit the jackpot.
Fred was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early March 2023, a condition that marked the beginning of his struggle with the illness. Brain tumors are abnormal growths of cells in the brain, which can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). It was the latter in Fred’s case, causing significant stress among all his fans and family members.
The symptoms of a brain tumor can vary greatly, depending on the size, location and rate of growth of the tumor. Fred began to experience headaches in the early stages, which are often the first sign of abnormal cell growth in the cranium.
These were not ordinary headaches, as they instead persisted and gradually worsened over time. He also started to have issues with his eyes, which is another common symptom of a brain tumor, and which can include blurred vision, double vision, or loss of peripheral vision.
Fred began to experience more severe symptoms as the tumor grew, having difficulty with balance, and experiencing bouts of dizziness. His speech became slurred, and he had trouble articulating his thoughts clearly. He also began to experience seizures, which are sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain.
These conditions have the potential to manifest a wide range of symptoms, encompassing but not limited to transient confusion, episodes of fixed gazes, involuntary spasmodic movements affecting the limbs, and periods of unconsciousness or impaired awareness.
The progression of a brain tumor is most often rapid and devastating, especially when caught late, as Hurt’s was. The TV star confirmed it himself on 8 March 2023, linking a news report by prnewswire.com, which reported on his stage four brain cancer diagnosis, quoting him saying that he’s been alive for eight decades, and that there will be another adventure to share with his audience, provided that he weathers this illness.
The cancer puts increasing pressure on the brain as it grows, leading to a worsening of symptoms and a decline in physical and cognitive functions. Despite the best efforts of medical professionals, such illnesses can often be impossible to treat, particularly if they are located in parts of the brain that are hard to reach, or if they are aggressive and fast-growing.
— Mirror Celeb (@MirrorCeleb) July 12, 2023
The cancer was aggressive and resistant to whatever the medical team tried to do for the 80-year old. The cancer grew back despite his undergoing surgery to remove it, indicating its rapidly-developing malignant nature. He also attempted radiation therapy, which is a treatment that uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It was ultimately unsuccessful as well, and there was no hope left for the gold rusher.
Dakota’s passing on 12 July 2023 deeply affected his family, friends, and followers. His loved ones announced his passing on his official Facebook page, expressing their grief and admiration for Fred’s courage in his battle against the inevitable.
They characterized him as a person who profoundly impacted numerous lives, and garnered love and support from a diverse array of individuals. They also encouraged those who wished to honor Fred’s memory to donate to the Mike Rowe Works Foundation, an organization that aligns with Dakota’s passion for skilled labor and te,aching others these valuable skills.
A bitter taste
Some fans speculated that more could’ve been done to save Fred’s precious life, as there are also several other types of treatment specifically for brain cancer. It will remain unclear whether Dakota himself was against attempting new procedures, or whether someone else determined that only surgery and radiation therapy should be employed.
Chemotherapy was one example of what else could’ve potentially helped, and the groundwork had been set for it as well, as it’s rarely used as a stand-alone treatment for brain tumors. It’s most often combined with surgery or radiation, and some innovative methods have been developed to deliver chemotherapy drugs into the brain, involving surgically implanted wafers such as Gliadel.
Another avenue of treatment lies in targeted drug therapy, wherein medications are specifically designed to attack particular traits exhibited by tumor cells, impeding their proliferation and spread. Unlike traditional chemotherapy, targeted therapies demonstrate a greater ability to spare healthy tissue, leading to fewer and less severe side effects. Frequently employed in the treatment of metastatic brain tumors, targeted therapies are often combined with other modalities to maximize their effectiveness.
More recently, a groundbreaking approach known as Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields) has proven to be an effective therapy for brain cancer. This innovative technique employs painless electrical pulses to disrupt the division of brain tumor cells, thereby impeding their growth and dissemination. The portable nature of the TTFields device, resembling a swim cap connected to a compact backpack, allows for uninterrupted administration throughout the day, facilitating ease of use and integration into daily life.
Finally, clinical trials are research studies particularly relevant for individuals whose abnormal cell growth has recurred, or when dealing with tumors known for their aggressive nature, which often prove challenging to treat effectively using existing therapies.
There is no indication that the most appropriate treatment wasn’t employed in attempting to cure Fred’s cancer. It’s likely that both age and the severity of the cancer when finally identified combined to bring an end to a life well lived.