Project Runway executive producer Sara Rea remembers the show’s late hairstylist George Ortiz as being “a happy, loving, fun, exuberant guy.”
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the show’s former hairstylist was found dead in his New York apartment early Tuesday morning. According to director of public affairs Julie Bolcer of the NYC Chief Medical Examiner’s office, the cause of death was asphyxia by covering of head with fastened plastic bag and displacement of oxygen by nitrogen; the manner of death was suicide.
“I saw it on Facebook this morning and I was shocked. I didn’t believe it. He was always such a happy, loving, fun, exuberant guy. He was just one of those people you really enjoy being around. I can speak on behalf of the entire crew that we all just love having him around and the energy he brought to work every day. You never expect anything like this,” Rea tells PEOPLE after learning about the loss of the former crew member.
Ortiz, 45, served as a key hairstylist on 53 episodes of the reality competition series from 2006–10, according to IMDb, and worked with the Project Runway exec. producer for one season.
Although Ortiz reportedly took his own life on Tuesday, Rea recalls always seeing a beaming, happy Ortiz come to work every day.
“George always came to work with a big smile, big hugs for everyone. Lots of positive energy,” she says. “He had fun and made sure the people around him had fun. He would even cut crew members hair! He was part of a big family and he was a very positive part of that family.”
She adds, “Honestly when I picture him, I picture him just giving someone a hug. He just was that guy. And his big smile! Everyone had a different relationship with him but I think everyone would agree that he was a positive force and someone that everyone enjoyed being around.”