Aaron Collins (left) was only in his 20s. But something, his family and friends say, made him outline three things he wanted when he died: to repay his parents any debt he may have owed, to give a homeless person some money and to leave “an awesome tip” for a waiter or waitress.
“I’m not talking about 25%. I mean $500 for a … pizza,” Collins wrote in his will, according to his brother.
Collins died on July 7, just three weeks after his 30th birthday, in a Lexington, Kentucky, hospital, leaving behind family and friends who took up his final request — to leave a big tip. Family and friends fulfilled Aaron’s request, tipping one waitress in Lexington the $500, a moment that Aaron’s brother, Seth Collins, videotaped and posted online Wednesday to YouTube. It is linked to the family’s memorial page, AaronCollins.org.
Maybe it was the simple gesture. Maybe it was the generosity. But something caught the imagination of the public, who began watching the video. By Saturday, according to a YouTube count, there were more than 1.3 million views and nearly $30,000 in donations for the family to continue what has become known as “Aaron’s Last Wish,” Seth Collins told CNN.
The nearly 3-minute video chronicles the family carrying out Collins’ last wish at Puccini‘s Smiling Teeth, a pizzeria in Lexington.
“Well, this is where it’s happening,” Seth Collins says, narrating the trip to the pizzeria on Tuesday. “I’m waiting for the rest of the family to get here and then we’ll be going in and having lunch and giving someone a big tip. Hope it means a lot to them.”
Restaurant manager Caroline Coleman told CNN the family came in and ordered from waitress Sarah Ward.
The video picks up at the end of the meal, with the brother telling the waitress: “My brother passed away late last week. He asked that we go have pizza, and leave the waiter or waitress a $500 tip.”
A visibly stunned Ward said: “Are you serious? Are you kidding me?”
Seth Collins answered: “That’s what he wanted. Yeah, and if people keep donating, we will keep giving away $500.”
Ward then hugged him. “I’m going to be telling this story the rest of my life,” she said.
A preliminary investigation of Collins’ cause of death points to suicide by strangulation, according to the Fayette County coroner, though final autopsy results have yet to be released. Collins’ family question the initial findings, saying there was no indication he would take his own life, according to his brother.
But family members have no doubt that Collins’ last wish is making a big impact. Since the video posted on YouTube, Seth Collins said the family has heard from people in the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal and even Russia. So many people responded that he is moving the website to a different server to handle the increased traffic.
“People have just been overwhelmingly generous and kind,” he said. “If we can keep doing it, I’d like to keep giving these tips, and keep filming them so other people can see the happiness it’s bringing to someone.”
All the donations are going to the waiters and waitresses, the brother said.
“He left us a will full of his personality,” Seth Collins wrote on a memorial page.
“Aaron was generous in life, and that’s probably why he didn’t have the money to do this himself. He just accepted that if someone needed help, he would help them.”
And in a way, he is doing just that.