The teenage son of disabled artist Alison Lapper, who posed pregnant with him for the Trafalgar Square fourth plinth in one of Britain’s most famous art works, has been found dead.
The news was confirmed by Miss Lapper’s fiance Si Clift, who said: ‘Tragically, Parys Lapper, who was only 19 years old, died suddenly a week ago.’ He asked for donations to the Mental Health Foundation in Pary’s memory.
Miss Lapper, who was born without arms and with shortened legs because of a condition called phocomelia, posed for Marc Quinn in 2000, and his marble sculpture was on display in Trafalgar Square from 2005 to late 2007.
‘Alison Lapper Pregnant’ was hailed at the most powerful work by a British artist in decades, and a large replica featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Paralympics.
Miss Lapper, 54, from Brighton, has never named Parys’s father, who left her before he was born.
In the face of great opposition she fought to bring him up on her own, as she had been abandoned as an infant by her parents and grew up in institutions.
‘When I saw him, I just cried and cried,’ she said movingly after his birth at 35 weeks in 2000.
‘The emotions I felt were indescribable. I had never imagined I was going to be a mother, never thought it could be possible.
‘But when they placed him on my shoulder and I gave him a little kiss on his head and said “hello”, I was overwhelmed.’
Parys’s life was watched by millions of viewers in the acclaimed documentary series Child of Our Time, presented by Professor Robert Winston.
The idea was to chart the lives of 25 youngsters until they reached their 20th birthdays to increase understanding of childhood development.
Parys is the only one of the 25 to have died before reaching that milestone.
In one episode of the programme, Alison is seen leaving Parys so she can travel abroad for work.
According to an analysis of his behaviour published by the Open University: ‘Parys is clearly not entirely happy about this, the impression we gain is that he does have sufficient trust in his mother that he can anticipate her return and her continued presence in his life.’
Summing up Parys’s experience, the analysis continued: ‘This moving story illustrates eloquently the importance of building a strong attachment early on in a child’s life.
‘As is shown so clearly in this programme, Alison overcame many obstacles to give Parys as much care, love and attention as she could while he was a baby.’
Viewers of the programme were among those paying tribute to Parys today on social media.
Miss Lapper, who overcame her disabilities to achieve a first-class honours degree in fine art at Brighton University and forge a career as an artist herself, was awarded an MBE for services to art in 2003.
In an emotional speech in 2014, when she was awarded an honorary doctorate at Brighton, she described Parys as ‘my greatest piece of artwork and creation’.
Mr Clift described Parys as ‘a mischievous, generous, kind, loving, frustrating, cheeky, forgiving, beautiful boy’. He added: ‘He was his own man. He was a good son.’
Miss Lapper had initially refused to pose for Quinn, worried how he would depict disability, but agreed after he argued many of the greatest sculptures are missing limbs.
The fourth plinth, intended to hold a statue of King William IV, was empty for 150 years before becoming a showcase for a rolling series of art works from 1999.
The funeral for Parys will be held on Thursday at Worthing Crematorium. Mr Clift appealed to local motorcyclists to join the procession for the motorbike fan.
He added: ‘Ali has expressed a dear wish that she would absolutely love to see as many noisy motorbikes as possible to escort Parys on his final journey from her home to celebrate his life.’