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Autopsy Finds Don Simpson Died of Overdose

Drugs: Coroner determines that massive amounts of cocaine and prescription medications caused the heart failure that killed producer of such hit movies as 'Top Gun.'

March 27, 1996|CHUCK PHILIPS and ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

An autopsy shows that top movie producer Don Simpson--whose reckless appetite for drugs and women made him a legend in Hollywood--died in January of heart failure caused by a massive overdose of cocaine and prescription medications, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said Tuesday.

Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officers have been attempting to determine whether local doctors and pharmacies violated any laws in providing the drugs to the storied film producer, whose hit films included "Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide."

The drugs found in Simpson's body included stimulants, antidepressants, sedatives and tranquilizers, said Scott Carrier, a spokesman for the coroner's office.

"This is like a medicine case of drugs," Carrier said.

He said the combined drugs "were just too much" for the 52-year-old producer's heart, which had been weakened by myocardial fibrosis, a thickening of the heart muscle walls.

Simpson's body was found Jan. 19 on the floor of an upstairs bathroom in his lavish Bel-Air home. Spectacles and a book found beside the body indicated that he apparently collapsed and died while reading.

Paramedics responding to a 911 call said they found drugs scattered throughout an adjacent bedroom, but the first police officers to reach the scene about an hour later told the coroner's office that they found no drugs or drug paraphernalia near the body. These police officers reported that the death appeared to be of natural causes.

However, homicide detectives who arrived about four hours later said they found thousands of pills and capsules in the house--"the place looked a pharmaceutical supply house," said Det. Brad Roberts. The discrepancies between the first and second police reports have not been made clear.

Simpson's friends said he had been battling serious drug addiction in recent months, an affliction that contributed to the breakup of his long and successful partnership with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The friends said Simpson was reluctant to check into a drug detoxification and rehabilitation center. Instead, they said, he attempted a recovery program in his home.

That program--overseen by Simpson's friend and physician, Stephen Ammerman--came to an abrupt end last summer when Ammerman's body was found in Simpson's pool house. An autopsy revealed that Ammerman died of a multiple overdose of drugs.

According to a coroner's report, police investigators found a syringe and a vial of Valium near Ammerman's body. The prescription for the Valium had been written by Ammerman for someone named Dan Wilson, and filled by the Prime Care Pharmacy in Van Nuys.

Sources close to the investigations say Dan Wilson was a pseudonym for Simpson that doctors--among them Ammerman--had used to provide the producer with drugs. It is illegal in California to provide medications to a patient under a fictitious name.

Ronald Marks, an attorney who represents the pharmacy, acknowledged that Prime Care dispensed prescriptions for Dan Wilson at Simpson's home on Stone Canyon Drive last summer. Marks declined further comment, but in a letter to a lawyer representing Ammerman's family, he acknowledged that Prime Care was aware of a patient at Simpson's home who "was well-known and would be using a pseudonym."

Prescription records indicate that a West Los Angeles physician, Nomi Frederick, prescribed drugs last summer to Dan Wilson and to Ammerman. Frederick did not return repeated calls to her office. Neither Frederick nor any individuals are under investigation by the LAPD, but the California Board of Pharmacies is reviewing the case.

Alexander Lampone, an attorney representing the Ammerman family, said Tuesday that family members believe that the two deaths are related.

"Two people died of drugs in that house in less than six months," he said. "They both died due to overdoses of prescription drugs obtained through licensed practitioners, and we are seeking to find out how it happened."

Carrier said the drugs found in Simpson's body included cocaine, a stimulant, and a variety of drugs used in the treatment of depression, anxiety and sleeplessness--Unisom, Atarax, Vistaril, Librium, Valium, Compazine, Xanax, Desyrel and Tygan.

The drugs found in Ammerman's body included cocaine, morphine, Valium and an antidepressant called Venlafaxine.

Simpson's excesses were as fabled as his loud, large movies. His raucous lifestyle got him some juicy paragraphs in a couple of Hollywood tell-all books, including the recently released memoir of four self-described call girls, "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again."

In the book, one of the girls details what she claims were her sexual exploits with the producer. Not to be outdone, former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss--convicted on pandering and money-laundering charges in connection with her prostitution business--told a reporter that Simpson was "not just a customer, but a close friend."

Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II contributed to this story.

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