Milwaukee musician Mike Schank, best known as the co-star of the 1999 documentary American Movie, has died. A friend confirms to Milwaukee Record that Schank “passed away early this morning [Thursday] in his mother’s arms.” He was 53 years old.

Along with the main subject of American Movie, Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt, Schank became a breakout star in the early ’00s. Among numerous national media appearances, he played himself in a 2006 episode of Family Guy, and appeared in the 2001 Todd Solondz film Storytelling. But it was his presence in the Chris Smith-directed, Sundance Film Festival-winning American Movie that solidified Schank as a unique character, a loyal and laid-back pal, and a talented guitarist. He could also scream like no one’s business.

“Stay strong forever, Mike,” Borchardt tweeted Thursday night.

In June of this year, Schank addressed his health in a Facebook post: “I’ve been diagnosed with a rare type of cancer recently. It started in my esophagus and spread to my liver and lungs and a bunch of other places in my body. It’s stage 4 and they can’t cure it but they are going to try to get it under control with radiation and chemotherapy.”

In recent years, Schank was a fixture on the East Side, moseying around the neighborhood and offering a friendly hello to passersby (such as this author). He was also a member of the MKE Alano Club, a sobriety and recovery club on Prospect Avenue.

“He was the foundation of the Alano Club and a staple in so many’s recovery,” a friend says. “He provided wisdom, good energy, and was there every single time I personally needed him while somehow being there for countless others as well. He was such a good friend to me.”

Earlier this year, Schank took to Twitter to celebrate 27 years of sobriety:

Rest easy, Mike.

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Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.