Family: Surfing legend Andy Irons' death at 32 caused by hardening of arteries
Andy Irons was known for his battles with world-renowned nine-time champion Kelly Slater.
June 9th, 2011
10:44 AM ET

Family: Surfing legend Andy Irons' death at 32 caused by hardening of arteries

Triple world champion surfer Andy Irons died of a heart attack caused by the hardening of his coronary arteries, his family said in a press release Thursday. Irons, 32, died unexpectedly in November.

Irons had withdrawn from an event in 2010 amid concerns that he and others on the tour contracted dengue fever. He was returning home to Hawaii when he was found dead in an airport hotel while on a layover in Dallas.

But long-awaited toxicology reports and an autopsy, which were held off while his widow, Lyndie, was pregnant with their son, showed that dengue fever did not lead to the surfing star's death.

"A plaque of this severity, located in the anterior descending coronary artery, is commonly associated with sudden death," Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a prominent forensic pathologist, explained to the family, according to the press release.

"The only unusual aspect of the case is Mr. Irons' age, 32 years old," Di Maio told them. "Deaths due to coronary atherosclerosis usually begin to appear in the late 40s. Individuals such as Mr. Irons have a genetic predisposition to early development of coronary artery disease. In about 25% of the population, the first symptom of severe coronary atherosclerosis is sudden death."

No other factors contributed to his death, Di Maio told the family.

But the official toxicology report and autopsy from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner notes a second cause of death as "acute mixed drug ingestion."

Di Maio however said he believes most of the the drugs found in Irons' system (Xanax and Methadone) were at therapeutic levels. Benzoylecgonine, which is often tested for when conducting cocaine urinalysis, was also found in his system. A toxicologist that the family consulted said the levels of Benzoylecgonine were "consistent with the use of cocaine at about 30 hours prior to his death."

The report also shows trace amounts of methamphetamine in Irons' system. His wife says she insists the surfing champ did not use methamphetamine, "so it is likely the substance was present in the cocaine he ingested."

Lyndie Irons said that looking back, she does remember a few instances in the last year in which her husband complained of chest pains or occasional heartburn. She said a holistic health practitioner in Australia, whom he visited when he was looking for vitamin therapy, "offhandedly" said the surfer "had the heart of a 50-year-old."

She also said her husband had gotten typhoid fever five years ago, which she knows can damage the heart.

"But Andy shrugged it all off and led no one to believe he was in ill health," Lyndie Irons said.

Andy Irons was known for his battles with world-renowned ten-time champion Kelly Slater, one of the people who got him into surfing.

"It's all about the feeling I get from riding that wave," Irons said in a video for one of the tours called "I Surf Because." "That first wave is the reason why I think everyone keeps coming back."

And making a comeback is just what Irons had done. He had taken a year off, and admittedly struggled with some personal problems, but said getting back into surfing was what helped him get through it.

"I have a lot of inner demons. If I didn't have surfing to get those out of my system, I would self-destruct," he said in the video. "Surfing's the only reason that keeps me going at a normal state. It keeps my life at an even keel; without it, it would just tip into oblivion."

soundoff (184 Responses)
  1. Jesus

    The chest pains should have been the warning to send him to see a cardiologist. Ignoring chest pains of an unknown origin is extremely dangerous.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. iamthefreman

    Sadly, I had friend who ignored the same symptoms. Died instantly of an aortic anuerism at 39 with 3 small kids at home. He worked 18+ hours a day 6-7 days/week at 3 manual labor jobs and on occassional special projects. Nice guy, obviously super hard worker and did it all for his kids. Came from poorest eastern Europe. He complained to me about a week before that he had pains in his left arm on and off. I told him get checked out but he was "too busy". Real sad.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      We were summoned to a unit in the field that was encamped 100 meters away, after a 28 year old woman collapsed.
      She had no pulse or respiration. CPR was initiated and continued, in spite of our being unable to measure a pulse during CPR.
      After 45 minutes of hard work, she was declared deceased. Upon autopsy, she was found to have expired secondary to a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, secondary to an adrenal tumor that apparently was releasing massive amounts of adrenaline. She had previously been under treatment for hypertension, the tumor undetected.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    I wonder if his cholesterol levels had been artificially lowered to dangerous levels. Hardening of the arteries @32?

    June 9, 2011 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Of the cholesterol levels were excessively lowered, he'd have muscular pain of extraordinary strength, not clogged arteries.
      Some people are just unlucky, throwing craps at the genetic dice table.
      In my family, we have a predisposition to put on pounds to a moderate level, no morbid obesity, just a bit overweight. We also run high in cholesterol and triglycerides. We also have type 2 diabetes and a few cancers in our family.
      Yet, at 50, my heart only has 10% blockage in one artery, examined after the cardiologist thought that I had a heart attack, but the EKG changes that prompted the examinations was due to a heat stroke suffered two weeks previously while I was deployed to the Middle East.
      I had tried the most draconian low fat/cholesterol diet in the world, it literally had zero effect. Tried statins, I can only take one crestor per week, any higher dose kills muscle (rhabdomylosis). I still smoke a pack a day of lucky strike cigarettes.
      And am quite healthy otherwise. No type 2 diabetes here yet. No cancer, in spite of smoking AND multiple other exposures to carcinogens. A bit thick in the middle, but otherwise OK.
      Go figure!

      June 9, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Schmitz

    That is very sad he was a great champion the world of surfing is at a loss –

    June 9, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    We are constantly being warned of the dangers associated with cholesterol levels that are too high in their opinion. (Medical establishment) Not a peep about dangerously low levels. Cholesterol is what protects your vital organs and blood vessels from being dissolved by the acidic foods we eat.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Well, you have only one of two things right. Idiot savant, you have only the idiot part down.
      First, cholesterol doesn't protect you from acidic foods. Mucus does, lining the stomach and intestine. Food doesn't enter your blood, nutrients do through the villi in the intestine, though some are absorbed through the stomach, such as water and sugar.
      Cholesterol IS used, as many other sterols are used, in production and maintenance of muscle.
      Excessive cholesterol has been linked with clogged arteries.
      Regardless of any of the above, you are still an idiot. You will remain an idiot for the remainder of your days. Your wife is an idiot for marrying you. Your children will be idiots as well.
      For, you are a scion of idiots, an idiot from a proud line of idiots stretching back to the missing link.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cliche

    "Inner demons".....Is anyone else tired of that? Its almost like a cop out, like 'I'm the way I am, sorry, cant change, got my inner demons.' It total BS....just CHANGE...

    June 9, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • amused123

      people will change ONLY when the choose to.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Have you ever thought about getting into psychiatry? You'd be very good at it.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    A study of senior citizens was conducted over a 3 yr. period, comparing active senior citizens with those who were not. The study found that the active seniors all suffered from dangerously high levels of cholesterol, while the others had mostly all had their cholesterol levels artificially lowered with medications. Now, guess which group had the most bypass procedures.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Todd

    Some people, because they are active (and in this case, young) might ignore other aspecs of their health. If you have chest pains, it isn't a muscle pull. You go to a doctor. If it's nothing, you wasted a few hours of one day. Get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthy, and if your body is trying to tell you something, listen to it. False alarms won't disturb your schedule that much.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      Especially when you've had run-ins with serious illnesses such as typhoid and dengue. Those aren't diseases to be taken lightly! What a shame 😦

      June 9, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  9. Btpstreer

    Love how you guys left out the most important part of the story..... straight from a reliable jounalism site "Both Alprazolam (Xanax) and methadone were found in Irons' system, as well as benzoylecgonine, which Gary H. Wimbish Ph.D., DABFT, a forensic toxicologist consulted by the family, describes as a bi-product of cocaine use. Irons was alleged to have gone out in Miami during a layover between Puerto Rico and Texas, and Wimbish verifies that the level of benzoylecgonine found in Irons' system "is consistent with the use of cocaine at about 30 hours prior to his death."

    June 9, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Kurtis

      Yeah, this article is pretty shocking because of how much they actually left out of the article. Pretty sad journalism.

      June 9, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  10. Toddy T.

    "Hardening of the Arteries" -he had a Myocardial Infarction- a heart attack! CNN sounds like a junior high student with their overly lay explanation. While I know they were just quoting the family, maybe they could have run this one by 'ole Gupta before putting it out there..nonetheless a sad story indeed.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kurtis

    This article is quite misleading. It does not mention that Dr. Di Maio was not the doctor who performed the autopsy or the official doctor dealing with the case (which the full report is still to be released on June 20th) but a doctor hired by the Irons family to "interpret and clarify" the initial report. His opinion has an inherent bias in how the results are "read". The original autopsy doctor also noted that drugs were a related factor in this death and in his system at the time of death. There are also studies that connect cocaine use to hardening of arteries.

    My opinion is that Andy was an amazing surfer. I still am grateful what he offered the world of surfing and I actually think nothing negatively about him because of his drug use. We all make mistakes and he also battle bi-polar disorder which has to be connected to issues he dealt with. But I also don't think it is right to build up an image for marketing purposes to youths, (and one that was based on a specific lifestyle) and not let them know the truth about the images they were given and the consequences of that truth.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Kurtis: > I also don't think it is right to build up an image for marketing purposes to youths, (and one that was based on a specific lifestyle) and not let them know the truth about the images they were given and the consequences of that truth.

      This stabs at the heart of the matter. The delay was so that the estate could make more money.

      June 10, 2011 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. Nick

    In about 25% of the population, the first symptom of severe coronary atherosclerosis is sudden death."
    That is comforting.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  13. Renee

    Hardened arteries, jeez. People get your physical check up every year!

    June 9, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar The Chorizo Champ of Chihuahua

    How in the world can a 32 year old die of a heart attack and have hardened arteries. That's for old people 88 and above.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. Cesar The Chorizo Champ of Chihuahua

    Ok bring out the chili dog,pizza, and nachos. Extra toppings all around. Good for the heart.

    June 9, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
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