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Herbalife Founder Was on 4-Day Binge, Coroner Says

August 12, 2000|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark Hughes, founder of Herbalife International Inc., had been on a four-day drinking binge just before his death in May, according to final autopsy results released Friday by the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

The cause of the 44-year-old's death had earlier been determined to be an accidental combination of alcohol and the antidepressant Doxepin, which is also prescribed for anxiety-induced sleeplessness.

The founder of the weight loss and nutritional products firm died in his bedroom at his $25-million Malibu beachfront estate. He was found about 10:30 a.m. May 21 by his wife, Darcy, after celebrating his grandmother's 84th birthday.

One of Hughes' security guards told sheriff's investigators Hughes drank wine during the birthday party, according to the report.

"Other sources informed the deputies that the decedent had been on a four-day drinking binge. They did not know what alcohol the decedent had been drinking," the report says.

Tests indicated that Hughes' blood-alcohol level at the time of his death was 0.21%, nearly three times the legally defined level of intoxication.

According to the coroner's report, Hughes had fallen asleep on the living room couch. When his wife tried to awaken him to go to bed about midnight and again at 1 a.m., he resisted her efforts.

The report states Darcy Hughes went to sleep on a sofa in a side room. After that, her husband apparently made his way to bed.

Darcy Hughes called security guards, who are stationed around the clock at the front of the estate, when she awoke and noticed that her husband "did not look right" as he lay on the bed.

Security guards dialed 911 and attempted unsuccessfully to resuscitate Hughes as county firefighters hurried to the scene.

The coroner's report notes that Hughes' psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Scappa, had been aware of the drinking binges and was treating him for them. Scappa had prescribed the Doxepin, along with Klonopin and Antibuse, a drug used to treat alcohol abuse.

According to the report, Scappa told investigators Hughes was health-conscious and exercised regularly.

While Hughes promoted herbal nutrition through his company's products, he smoked six to eight cigars a day, his wife said.

Three months before his death, Hughes had been treated for pneumonia. He also suffered from asthma, which he treated with two different inhalants, and was being treated for a stomach problem, according to the report.

At the time of his death, Hughes had abandoned an attempt to buy back the company he founded in 1980. He owned about 50% of the stock, but his attempt to finance a $510-million purchase for the rest collapsed a month before he died.

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