'Clerks' Star Lisa Spoonauer Battled Illnesses for Years ... Death Still Shocked Family

5/25/2017 12:30 AM PDT

'Clerks' Star Lisa Spoonauer Battled Illnesses for a Decade, Died of Natural Causes

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'Clerks' star Lisa Spoonauer had been sick for years prior to her death last week ... still her family says her death was far from expected.

Sources close to Lisa's immediate family tell TMZ ... she'd been battling several chronic illnesses for 10 years prior to her death Saturday. The illnesses were not disclosed, but were described as degenerative.

We're told Lisa's family was aware of her ailments, but never suspected her condition was bad enough to kill her. Although she'd been in and out of hospitals for years, she died at home.

The coroner says Lisa died of natural causes, which her doctor signed off on -- a sure sign one of her many illnesses triggered the death.

"Clerks" writer and director, Kevin Smith, shared memories of casting her in the movie that changed his life. Lisa was 44.

Devastated to report that #LisaSpoonauer, who played Caitlin in #clerks, has passed away. In 1992, I went looking for Lisa without knowing either who she was or the integral role she'd play in my life. I'd held a night of open auditions at the #firstavenueplayhouse (where we found @briancohalloran and @marilynghigliotti) but the perfect Caitlin Bree never walked through the door. So I popped into an acting class at Brookdale Community College and watched the students from the back. Lisa was easily the most natural and authentic voice in the room. She didn't sound like she was acting at all; she delivered scripted dialogue as if she was inventing her conversation in the moment, like people do in real life. Captivated, I approached Lisa cold in the parking lot after the class and said "This is gonna sound creepy but... Do you wanna be in a movie?" Fearlessly, she replied "Not if it's porn." I told her a bit about Clerks and gave her a copy of the script and my phone number. She called me a few days later and said "Well it's not porn, but everybody talks like it is. It's funny. I'll do it." A complete stranger at first, Lisa quickly became one of the most important people I'd ever meet when she joined Brian, #JeffAnderson, Marilyn, @jaymewes, @samosier, @davidkleinasc and me as one of the chief architects of my first film. We rehearsed for a month straight in the store after hours, where Lisa perfected Caitlin (and fell in love with Jeff). The first night of the shoot, Lisa had to maneuver her way through a seven minute scene with Brian in the video store, when Caitlin finally shows up in the movie. Lisa and Brian CRUSHED it in one long take that still remains one of my favorite scenes I've ever shot - not because it shows off any directorial flare (it doesn't) but because it exemplified how great the performers were since we never had to cut away from their 2-shot. But as strong an actress as she was, Lisa was an even more excellent Mother to her daughter Mia. Whenever we'd Facebook later in life, she'd gush about her baby girl proudly. My heart goes out to Tom, Mia and Lisa's family. Thank you for dreaming my dream with me. You changed my life, Lisa.

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