Death of Justin Bieber lookalike reveals a sadder tale

What shred of fame Toby Sheldon enjoyed came from a thoroughly modern commitment: to undergo a bevy of plastic surgery procedures so that he could resemble Justin Bieber.

On television shows such as “Botched,” “The Doctors” and “My Strange Addiction,” he professed a desire to counter the aging process with more and more treatments. He endured at least six hair transplants to match the pop star’s thick bangs, he said.

The many procedures -- liposuction, lip lifts, fillers, fat injections and an eye lift -- cost more than $100,000.

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“Especially nowadays, your face is your calling card. Everybody judges you based on what you look like,” Sheldon told reality TV star-turned-talk-show-host Bethenny Frankel in 2013.

What would it take, she asked, for him to abandon his obsession with surgically modifying his body?

“If I die, I guess,” he bluntly replied. The audience laughed.

Sheldon, whose real name was Tobias Martin Strebel, was found dead Aug. 21 in a room at a Motel 6 along Roscoe Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. The 35-year-old had been missing for three days. Officials say prescription drugs were found in the room, although the cause of death has not been determined.

More than 10 days after his body was recovered, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office has still not conclusively identified the body as Strebel's. The reasons for the delay -- difficulties reaching his mother in Germany, his only known relative, and the “severely decomposed” state of his body – compound what was already a tragic dénouement.

“We believe it is him,” said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the coroner’s office. “But we have to be positive.”

Strebel, a native of Nuremberg, Germany, came alone to the U.S. to pursue a songwriting career, according to his manager, Gina Rodriguez.

In 2003, he married a Japanese woman, but they divorced about three years later, citing irreconcilable differences, according to documents filed in L.A. County Superior Court. Their sparse property was divided equally. Court documents show he had no income at the time of the divorce.

He found work as a production assistant, said producer Leslie Borodi, who briefly employed him for a project around 2012.

But Strebel’s music career never quite took off. He trained to become a nurse, and in 2010, he registered as a licensed vocational nurse in California, according to public records.

Although he admitted to undergoing hair transplants starting in 2004, most of which failed, he said, his plastic surgery exploits didn’t appear to ramp up until after 2008, when Bieber skyrocketed to fame.

“I didn’t necessarily listen to his music or fawn over him as a celebrity, but his face was just so flawless; every change I made was modeled after him,” Strebel told the Daily Mail in 2012.

Packaged as an extreme example of the wannabe-Bieber, Strebel -- under the name Toby Sheldon -- gained the stardom that had eluded him.

In 2013, he announced on social media that he’d signed on with a new manager, Rodriguez. A former adult film star, Rodriguez has at one point stewarded the careers of "Octomom" Nadya Suleman and Lindsay Lohan’s father.

A string of television appearances followed, where he was often the subject of criticism: for taking plastic surgery too far and for using aesthetic enhancements to mask his low-self esteem.

“This makes us really sad,” Dr. Rachael Ross told him on an episode of “The Doctors.” “You feel like you have to keep cutting on yourself in order to look better.”

On social media, commentators also heaped on the derision. But Rodriguez said Strebel was resilient.

“For all the slings and arrows put forth against him, he always held his head high,” she said in a statement. “He had a genuine talent and love for songwriting and it showed in everything he did.”

Indeed, he was able to parlay the notoriety from his Bieber-esque visage into a music group that he formed with Kitty Jay and Venus D’Lite, both known for their attempts to undergo plastic surgery in order to resemble Jennifer Lawrence and Madonna, respectively. Their ensemble was fittingly named “The Plastics.”

Strebel continued to work as a nurse, and in the last year, he started working the late shift at Goldstar Healthcare Center in Inglewood. There, colleagues knew him as Toby.

“He was wonderful, kind, sweet and helpful,” said Telisa Myles, the activities director at the nursing home. She recalled how he doted on one patient, a German woman named Frida, treating her to chocolates and conversing in their native tongue.

“Everybody loves him,” Myles said, calling his death shocking and sad. “He was always there when we needed him.”

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

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