Matt Chan. Photo courtesy of the family.

Community activist and multiple Emmy award-winning television producer Matt Chan died March 30, age 71, in the company of family and friends, his wife Gei Chan shared on social media. Chan is survived by his wife Gei, his son Max, daughter Althea Chow, and grandchildren.

Chan was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2022. 

An official announcement and information about Chan’s memorial will be released soon.

Chan worked in television for over four decades, including KING TV in Seattle and KPIX (CBS) in San Francisco, and he created the hit reality TV show Hoarders, along with other national cable network series.

In recent years, Chan helped produce political ads for young candidates of color, many of whom won their races. Concerned about rampant development of market-rate high rise housing in the CID, Chan served on the board of the International Special Review District (ISRD), scrutinizing plans from property developers. In 2021, Chan served in Mayor Bruce Harrell’s administration as special advisor for public engagement, advising the mayor on the City’s strategic use of digital technology to enhance public engagement.

In 2022, Chan was a leading activist in the successful effort to convince King County to halt expanding shelter and services in SoDo at the edge of the Chinatown International District. Alongside Gei and now-Councilmember Tanya Woo, Chan used his storytelling skills to help the community voice its concerns. The three worked together with a coalition of community members researching, planning rallies, mobilizing senior residents of the CID, and meeting with politicians. 

In October 2022, the County backed down from the plan. That month, Chan was honored with special recognition at the International Examiner’s Community Voice Awards.

In January, Chan was named as one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine for this successful effort.

Chan grew up in Portland, OR the son of third-generation immigrants. Fascinated by media technology at a young age, Chan became passionate about filmmaking in high school, and he studied broadcast at the University of Oregon.

Chan worked at KING TV in public affairs, producing, and directing for a year, where he met lifelong friend Enrique Cerna, a veteran local broadcast journalist who in 2018 retired as senior correspondent at Cascade Public Media’s KCTS 9. “Matt was bold, brash, smart, creative and confident. He was funny. His humor was something else,” Cerna wrote in a public Facebook post. “For all his bravado, Matt had a gentle side. He loved his family. He took great joy in being a grandfather.”

Chan met his wife Gei while he was working as a TV producer and Gei worked at KQED TV. To learn more about TV production, Gei got involved with a story Matt was producing. Gei was Chan’s date for the Northern California Regional Emmy Awards, where he won for Producing in a competitive category.

Chan got the idea for the show Hoarders while he was staying in a hotel in Japan. A TV program he was watching featured the city cleaning up a house that someone with apparent hoarder tendencies had lived in. At the time, the word “hoarder” wasn’t in common usage.

People in the TV world were skeptical at first, but after Hoarders began airing in 2009 and the pilot pulled in a stunning number of views, it was picked up and became a smash hit, and was featured on Oprah within three weeks. Hoarders became the A&E network’s highest-rated show ever and currently in its 16th season.

After retiring from TV, Chan taught Advanced Video Storytelling as an adjunct professor to young communications professionals at the University of Washington’s graduate Communications Leadership program. He also ran community video storytelling and citizen journalism workshops to help people tell their own stories and find their own voices.

Chan lent his storytelling talents to producing a short documentary about the murder of CID public safety protector and advocate Donnie Chin. The documentary was featured in the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and caught the attention of local politicians. 

Chan helped produce campaign spots for candidates of color, including Port Commissioners Hamdi Mohamed, Sam Cho and Toshiko Grace Hasegawa, State Sen. Joe Nguyen, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, and Councilmember Woo, who was appointed to the Seattle City Council this year. 

“Matt Chan changed my life,” wrote Port Commissioner Cho in a public Facebook post. “If you believe there is a new generation of BIPOC political leaders in our region, that is thanks to Matt Chan….He gave a voice to the voiceless. He was stern and unrelenting in his values. He was an activist who led by example and with a bravado unmatched.”

“He believed in me when I was just a newcomer to politics, encouraging me when others doubted,” said State Sen. Nguyen in a public Facebook post. “His passing is a tremendous loss, but his impact will live on forever.”

Chan talked candidly about his journey with cancer on the podcast he hosted with Cerna, Chino y Chicano.

The first rally Chan led against King County’s shelter expansion came a day after his first chemo infusion. 

“I try to live day to day. And that was one of the reasons I got involved with things,” Chan said in an interview  with the International Examiner in November 2022. “Because if I can make an impact while I’m here, I will.”

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