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Herbalife Chief's Death Is Ruled an Accident

June 17, 2000|TERRY McDERMOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Herbalife founder Mark Hughes died accidentally, the result of lethal combination of alcohol and an antidepressant, the Los Angeles County coroner has determined.

Coroner's spokesman Scott Carrier said an autopsy found that Hughes' blood-alcohol level at the time of his death was 0.21%, nearly three times the legally defined level of intoxication, and that he had an elevated level of the drug Doxepin.

Doxepin is sometimes prescribed for anxiety-induced sleeplessness, and it is thought that Hughes was using it for that purpose, Carrier said. Neither the alcohol nor the drug was present in sufficient quantity to have been the sole cause of death, Carrier said.

The coroner found no indication of foul play or intentional overdose, he said.

Hughes, 44, founded Herbalife International, a weight-loss and nutritional products company, in Beverly Hills in 1980. It was a meteoric success, reaching $500 million in sales in just five years. The company's products are sold mainly through a network of more than 100,000 independent salespeople, most of whom work part time.

Hughes was frequently described as a charismatic leader and astute businessman who remained intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the company until his death. The company has since named Chief Operating Officer Christopher Pair acting president and chief executive.

Hughes took the company public in 1986, but recently was trying to orchestrate a $510-million buyback because the company's stock was performing below his expectations.

Family members found Hughes dead in his Malibu mansion bedroom May 21.

An autopsy was performed because of his relatively young age.

Carrier said the combination of alcohol and Doxepin would cause excessive sedation, causing the brain center that controls respiration to shut down. Cessation of respiration would be the immediate cause of death, he said.

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