Months after Conner died on January 30 of this year, just one week before his 33rd birthday, the Southern Charm star, 31, confirmed his cause of death and opened up about the secret health battle he’d been fighting for years, noting that symptoms of the illness led him into the throws of addiction.
“I wish you could have met him, because he was just the most amazing guy,” Olivia told PEOPLE on November 1. “My brother, he was very lively and loved bringing people together; he literally made friends everywhere we’d go. Even when we went on vacation, we’d go down the hotel lobby to get breakfast and he knew everyone by name. He was this 6’5″ beautiful guy who had the biggest heart.”
As Southern Charm fans may know, Conner died amid filming on season nine. And the moments that followed the devastating news were captured by the cameras as Olivia’s castmates rallied around her in support.
“Conner and I have always been very protective of each other. So discussing this loss with a larger audience hasn’t been easy. But I definitely want to step outside my comfort zone and use my platform to shed some light and awareness and possibly help others, because I know I’d be honoring Conner in some way by doing that,” she noted.
“He loved to help people,” Olivia continued. “He was actually the one who encouraged me to do the show. And I remember producers asking several times if they could do a scene with Conner and I, but because I’m so protective of him, I never wanted to talk about what he was going through on camera. But he agreed to do a FaceTime call from Arizona and I’m so glad he did because now I have that footage forever. It was such an accurate portrayal of who he was, too. If you watch, what he’s saying is ‘Passing the torch to me.’ And I didn’t know at the time what that would mean, but I’m very, very grateful for that conversation.”
Looking back at the years-long battle that ultimately led to his death, Olivia revealed Conner had secretly struggled with a “longtime battle with Lyme disease.”
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Olivia shared. “There are these holes in the healthcare system, and my brother fell into one.”
Although Conner first began experiencing Lyme disease symptoms at 15, he wasn’t diagnosed until years later. And once he was, he was treated with opioid painkillers for his chronic pain and Xanax for his associated anxiety.
“He started depending, at a very young age, on this prescription medicine to feel normal. And we as a family started to see this toll it took on his body,” Olivia recalled.
While Conner was once a talented golfer and entered college on a golf scholarship, he was forced to quit the game due to his “debilitating” symptoms.
And although he was eventually referred to a functional medicine doctor, he’d already sustained internal damage from the disease and become addicted to the prescriptions he was advised to take.
“Now, not only was he getting treatment for Lyme, but he was also in rehab dealing with getting off this medicine,” Olivia said. “Nobody wanted to get better more than Conner did. For years he was just in and out of rehab, trying so hard to get on the other side of this … Anytime my parents would get him help, it was because he asked for it. He wanted to stop this.”
One particularly challenging moment in his health battle came after Conner broke his back jumping into the water at a rehab facility.
“He was rushed to the hospital and they pumped him full of pain meds, not even thinking,” Olivia explained. “That was a relapse all in itself.”
But Conner’s fight to get off the meds continued. And after declining a role on Southern Charm to focus on his health, he entered a wellness center in Arizona.
“He was in the best shape I’d seen him in years,” Olivia recalled. “We had all gone up there to spend Christmas with him and he was completely clean. He just looked and felt great. My brother, he had such a hunger for life and an entrepreneurial spirit. He loved to work. He had huge dreams he wanted to accomplish. And he was talking about his plans to move to Dallas, Texas, where he already had jobs lined up.”
Sadly, however, during a visit to Charleston amid treatment, the worst happened.
“We were supposed to have dinner together while we were here,” Olivia said. “I talked to him on the phone that day and we were going to meet at our house in Isle of Palms. But I went there, and it didn’t seem like anyone was home, so I left.”
Fifteen minutes later, Olivia got a phone call she will never forget.
“My dad called me and said he could see on the cameras in our driveway that there was an ambulance there. And I turned around to get back but by the time I got there, the house was blocked off and nobody was allowed to go in,” Olivia revealed. “I think I stood there for, it felt like an hour — just asking questions, not getting any answers. And it wasn’t until the coroner pulled up that I put two and two together and realized he was gone.”
“It was just so crazy,” she added. “We were on the phone not even an hour earlier. And then… he’s gone.”
Ultimately, the coroner ruled Conner’s cause of death as an accidental fentanyl overdose.
“My brother hated talking about his illness,” Olivia said in response. “So many people, even in his close circle, didn’t know about his Lyme. So again, to hear he died of a fentanyl overdose, there’s immediately going to be this assumption that he was partying. Conner wasn’t like that. This was a relapse. This was his means to survive.”
Southern Charm season nine airs Thursdays at 9/8c on Bravo.