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Teen whose 'Roar' cover went viral dies: 'She was so surrounded by love'

Dec. 2, 2013 at 2:21 PM ET

Olivia Wise, the terminally ill teen whose cover to Katy Perry’s “Roar” went viral almost overnight, lost her battle with brain cancer last week, just months after the recording was posted on YouTube.

Wise was diagnosed with brain cancer nearly two years ago after having a seizure during a family vacation. But even that daunting news couldn’t crush the spirit of the bright and bubbly teen, says Jeff Kassel, the cousin who arranged for Wise’s trip to the recording studio.

“She’s one of those special people who are so warm and easy and lovely,” Kassel told TODAY.com. “When she was diagnosed with a really aggressive tumor that was not only inoperable, but also invasive, there was very little hope right away. I’m sure she had her ups and downs, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw her. Her attitude was so unbelievable. I think it made it easier for everyone else to keep positive.”

Wise died peacefully at her home on Nov. 25, Kassel said. “She was so surrounded by love,” he added.

The “Roar” video came about because Kassel wanted to give the 16-year-old a special gift, like the Make a Wish Foundation does. Knowing that she loved to sing, Kassel reached out to a friend in the music business to see if they could find a way to bring the girl into a studio to record some of her favorite songs. Producer Jon Levine liked the idea, and came up to Toronto to make it happen.

Kassel didn’t tell his cousin about the recording opportunity until they had reached the studio, though he had asked her generally if it was the kind of thing she’d like to do.

“At this point Olivia’s health was deteriorating enough that I didn’t know if a session was a possibility,” he says. “And I didn’t know if this would be positive or negative experience.”

The big concern, Kassel says, was that she would feel bad hearing the impact of her illness on her voice. He needn’t have worried. She was thrilled.

The video of the recording turned out to be heart wrenching and exhilarating at the same time. Wise, sitting in a wheelchair, starts out softly and then as she hits the chorus, her voice becomes more and more powerful as she smiles belting out the words: “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire.”

Word of the video even reached Katy Perry, who responded with a YouTube video of her own. “I love you,” the singer said. “A lot of people love you and that’s why your video got to me. It moved everyone who saw it.”

Perry’s final message to Wise: “Keep roaring.”

Along with giving Wise something she’d always wished for, Kassel hoped that the recording session, would leave a legacy to the family that was losing a loved one.

The recording will also help another part of Wise’s legacy. A fund was set up in her name to raise money to help kids with cancer and to help fund research. To that end, her recording of “Roar” is being sold on iTunes with the proceeds going to the Liv Wise Fund.

Originally, the Fund had a goal of $150,000, but that goal was reached soon after the teen’s death. The Fund now has a goal of $250,000 and as of today, $162,511.04 has been raised.

As for Perry, the singer who served as Wise's inspiration for her viral video, tweeted that the teenager had left a mark on her life as well.


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