It almost seems hard to believe today, but there was a time when Top Gear wasn’t an international phenomenon and massive franchise—and instead was just a little car-review show on the BBC. It was the internet that helped Top Gear break global barriers, and Alex Mills played a massive part in that. Mills, known to many by his internet handle of Viper007Bond, died this week of leukemia at 34.
Tributes and salutes from across the network of car enthusiasts he helped cultivate poured in, including from Top Gear’s former hosts.
Mills, who ran the Top Gear fan site FinalGear.com and helped drive much of the show’s popularity and recognition outside of the U.K., died this past Wednesday, nine days after he wrote a blog entry titled “Leukemia Has Won.”
In that entry, Mills said that despite his best efforts “over the past two and a half years” with leukemia, his liver had become too damaged to continue treatment, and that there were “no further options.”
He didn’t want to stay in the hospital, he said, so he went home to be with family and friends.
The next blog update after that came from Mills’ family, and said he “passed peacefully” on Feb. 27. The family thanked people worldwide for their love and support, and said it meant a lot to both Mills and themselves.
“He really enjoyed reading all of the comments, letters, and cards,” the entry read. “We’re so grateful for the time we had with him. He will be missed.”
Most who interacted with him online didn’t know Mills by his given name. They knew him, instead, by a tag he described as “rather dorky,” a screen name he chose when first making an AOL account as a teenager that centered around his two favorite things, the Dodge Viper and James Bond.
Thus, “Viper007Bond” came to be—a name that would, after the launch of his Top Gear fan site Final Gear, become synonymous with helping foster the growth of the show into an accessible international icon.
Mills, who lived in Oregon, turned Final Gear into the ultimate destination to go to for people who wanted to watch Top Gear, but weren’t in the right part of the world. Before BBC America, before Netflix, before streaming was really a thing, Final Gear was the only place (technically legal or otherwise) to watch the show for fans in many countries, including the United States.
And more importantly, while everyone was torrenting the show, Final Gear became a website where fans of the show outside of its UK broadcasting base could find torrent links that didn’t debilitate their computers with viruses or other malicious code, and helped put Top Gear and its three former hosts—Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond—on the screens of the masses online.
Clarkson, who now hosts The Grand Tour on Amazon with May and Hammond, posted about Mills’ passing on Twitter on Friday, referring to him by his ever-well-known screen name and offering condolences to his family.
Final Gear stopped posting torrent links in 2014, when the BBC issued a take-down request after it took up the responsibility of branching the show out past the borders of the U.K. Mills kept the Final Gear forums and chat channels up, and the forum site now has a memorial banner for Mills across the top of the page.
Mills, who only wanted to be identified by his screen name at the time, talked to Jalopnik in 2016 about the history of Final Gear and how the torrent links came to an end:
Network execs likely didn’t initially consider that Top Gear would find an audience abroad, given its location on a British public broadcasting network and now, a huge swath of viewers who were watching it without paying the BBC’s license fees to fund it all. But they certainly took notice of its popularity online once it did. Cast members and staff occasionally made mention of their Internet following on the show and its related websites, much to FinalGear’s amusement. [...]
On the show itself, presenters still tiptoed around their known pirate-heavy following.
“Never in name,” Viper explained, “Always jokingly like ‘oh the internet, dah, dah, dah, whatever.’ You know, that kind of thing. I know they were aware of the site. I can’t speak officially. I don’t know for sure, but my understanding is that everyone but the legal department didn’t mind, because to them they were just producing something and more fans were enjoying it.”
But Mills was more than just the person behind a popular car show’s growth on the internet. He was a car enthusiast, a writer and a WordPress developer, who kept the online community he’d created informed about his health—the good updates and the bad—through intimate, honest blog posts.
In his final entry, Mills directed people back to the series of posts he’d written throughout his fight with cancer. He recapped his life in a way that read with a sense of calm, and thanked his friends and colleagues for supporting him:
I have been so grateful for all of the opportunities that have been given to me in my life, professionally and personally. Automatticians have really helped me grow professionally by giving me an amazing career for the past nine years. My car friends have helped me grow socially and provided me so many good memories and life experiences. The people that I have gotten to know in the WordPress community have been very supportive as well. I am amazed by how many friends I have made and how much they have been there for me. They all have enriched my life and helped me grow as a person.
Mills said it would “mean a lot” for his legacy to live on through his WordPress plugins, and ended the entry with one final, concise paragraph:
Thank you, everyone.
But anyone who knows what Mills created for car enthusiasts worldwide knows that thanks weren’t necessary, from his end. If anyone deserves gratitude for what they’ve done for others—so many others, at that—it’s Mills himself.