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Irons had withdrawn from an event in 2010 amid concerns that he and others on the tour contracted dengue fever.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. Lee

    "The first symptom of severe coronary atherosclerosis is sudden death.". Guess it would also be the last...

    June 9, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • ReallMe

      Thats the most retarded statement in the world! Its not a symptom then lol

      June 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AmishAirline

    Oh come on now. . .still with the heart-disease thing? Andy was a PARTYER. I mean, world-class.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Just because he was a "partier" does not mean it killed him. Sudden death from heart disease DOES occasionally happen, whether you take drugs or lead a clean life.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • helloeyes

      He ruined his heart from his drug-use. It's not unheard of for young hard drug users to overdose – look at Hendrix and Joplin. He was never going to last much longer with the damage his heart had already sustained.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott

    RIP Andy.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. cecelia

    Why do we dramatizewhen we r hatched the creator gives us a no. When he calls, he calls.
    People have it better than others, and those. R the ones most unhappt

    June 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • MaggieJS

      What???

      June 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh

      I think you may need a drug screen.

      June 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trev

      She said, "I've got some personal experience with coke and meth use, too."

      June 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chris

    Uhhhh Coke, Meth, and Methadone in his system.....Yeah, that had nothing to do with his death...

    June 9, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ururrrr

      Right! They are mentionned as if they were caffene.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MotoJB

    Sheesh, that's quite a symptom....

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

    SAD – RIP.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. veenessa

    poor guy. im still a conspiracy theorist on pharmaceutical drugs. even if taken properly, i think they can affect everyone differently which is why im even hesistant to take aspirin!

    June 9, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. cadia

    He was a drug user for years ..as are most of the big time surfers... Let's be real

    June 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ultimate Irony

    The medical examiners noted cocaine in the toxicology tests. Cocaine is a potent vasoconstrictor and is known to both damage coronary arteries and to precipitate clot development in an already narrowed artery. Premature coronary artery disease sufficient to cause sudden death, in a young man, is relatively uncommon without the use of amphetamines or cocaine in the medical history. Although the cause of death is listed as heart disease, it is a reasonable hypothesis that without drug use, the death would not have occurred. This should be a cautionary tale for young adults whose self-perception of immortality leads to risk-taking behaviors.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trev

      My understanding from friends with a medical background is that prior use of cocaine is a factor in the increase in strokes among people in their 40's.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Akamai

      Amen. People, I don't care who you are or how young or healthy you are, you are NOT immune to the negative side affects of drugs. Please, don't put yourself in harms way by doing drugs.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • helloeyes

      Amen !

      June 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Ultimate Irony: > Although the cause of death is listed as heart disease, it is a reasonable hypothesis that without drug use, the death would not have occurred.

      Death might not have occurred at this time.

      June 10, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. Frank

    People of the United States of America.
    It appears he was his own worst enemy,probably never had a blood test to check out his risk factors and if he was doing BLOW 30 HRS before he was found that means he was probably doing it for years.Plus,probably not having a real job it helped hide his habit.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • GUIS

      Frank,

      If dedicating everyday (including weekends and vacations) from childhood to maturity to one thing, breaking through a barrier that lesser than 10 individuals on all of Earth and time could have achieved, and winning over $200,000 a year for traveling and doing what you love idoes not qualify as a JOB. Im sorry my friend but their is no purpose to live.

      June 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stacy

      What a shame, that he chose to take drugs while his wife was pregnant – that knowing he was about to become a father wasn't enough to pull him back from that lifestyle/addiction. My condolences to his family.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Frank: > Probably never had a blood test to check out his risk factors

      What makes you think he did not know?

      Contests could require medical exams as part of the filter. Do these guys have health insurance, pensions or life insurance.

      Frank: > probably not having a real job it helped hide his habit.

      Surfers are independent contractors in a field that pays them to hide there habits. He was responsible to show up in good enough health to perform in the event.

      June 10, 2011 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  11. sarah

    I'll be sure to be on the look out for that first symptom..... of death

    June 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sari

      That comment made me spit water out of my mouth from laughing...at work. I think they all know I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing now! But worth it. 🙂

      June 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PM

    Regular cocaine use also causes premature atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries") so there may be a non-genetic component as well.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rlsrd

    As a person that had the same thing that killed Andy. It's also suspected that drug use and disease can damage the arteries causing plaque build up. In my case where I have no family history, I believe it was Pnemonia I had 2 years prior to the discovery of blockages. There are usually symptioms unless the blockage just rupture. He had chest pains and heartburn. I had shortness of breath and chest pains when I after I walked for a city block or so. Difference is I went to the Dr. and he didn't. Now 20 years later , 2 stents and some rotor router work and I'm still kicking.

    June 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      rlsrd: > Difference is I went to the Dr. and he didn't.

      What makes you think he did not go to a Doctor?

      Where did he get the prescriptions he had filled just before halloween?

      June 10, 2011 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  14. v

    Shame on all the Andy Iron sycophants who enabled the progression of his addiction. I wonder if I should include his wife too? Now we're expected to observe the spin control, again denying the truth.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stacy

      She was aware of his drug use, and maybe that's what led to his taking a year off and dealing (admittedly unsuccessfully) with personal problems. His last use was apparently over a day before he expected to arrive home; that can mean that he knew she wouldn't tolerate it.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      It actually sounds like you are the one denying the truth.

      Irons clearly had drug problems. His addiction was a serious issue. But it did not appear to cause his death. Is that so amazingly hard to believe? Remember George Burns, who smoked and drank like a fish? He lived to be 100+ (I think). Just because someone abuses substances does not guarantee it will kill them.

      June 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • helloeyes

      Edwin- that is a seriously flawed argument.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Not.A.Surfer

    What is the point of this story? To teach children that if you are talented you can do heroin and coke but still be rich and famous?

    June 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Not.A.Surfer: > Teach children that if you are talented you can do heroin and coke but still be rich and famous?

      That seems to be the focus of the second autopsy.

      June 10, 2011 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
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