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Irons had withdrawn from an event in 2010 amid concerns that he and others on the tour contracted dengue fever.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

    By the way, Kelly Slater is 10 time world champion, not 9 time as noted in the picture's caption. Please correct that.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tactstl

    I just got back from a trip to Kauai, Hawaii for a vacation two days ago. In numerous spots driving to the north-shore past Hanalei are surfboards in locals front yards or driveways with R.I.P Andy Irons. That place is so beautiful and magical, it is from another time periods millions of years ago. If one was to spend only 3 decades on this planet, I truly can not think of a better place to be the most at peace with oneself, existence, and your place in this epic planet then the northshore of Kauai. R.I.P Irons.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rick

    As a side note, people who are on Methadone need to be carefully monitored. It can result in what is known as QT wave prolongation, an EKG finding, which can predispose one to developing a fatal cardiac arrythmia.
    Personally, I find it very hard to believe that someone at the age of 32 would suddenly die of atherosclerosis without any prior symptoms and is known to be on Methadone and other drugs.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Rick: > without any prior symptoms and is known to be on .. drugs.

      Who said there were no prior symptoms. He was in rehab!

      June 10, 2011 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. John

    We moved to Santa Cruz when I was 16. It was a great place to live, but our lives were saddened when my dad died there a year later of a sudden heart attack at 49. My brother had a major one at age 40. I got myself checked a month later (tread mill test) and they found some blockage - 3 coronary artery stents were added in a procedure. Seven years later I got three more after I returned from the war in Iraq. If you have any chance of a family history with coronary artery disease, get yourself checked at a younger age. Err on the side of caution.

    June 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Denial for $

    This family has the perfect opportunity to talk about the ugly side of professional surfing – drug abuse that is winked at and not taken seriously! Drug addiction is an illness that can be treated, especially when family members and friends address it head on. Andy is gone, a bright and talented star, dead way too young.
    Help young impressionable surfers avoid drugs by talking about how/why Andy died so young. Quit setting up a "perfect" image in the media so you can get sponsorship dollars related to Andy's name/legacy later. How about setting up rehab clinics, producing a school program to prevent drug abuse and getting drug awareness news out at surf contests/events...that would be a great start. The Andy Irons Drug Prevention Brochure will surely be read by many!

    June 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • helloeyes

      I agree with you – This is a perfect opportunity for people to speak out, speak up, and educate others. Instead, they sweep it under the rug. They are doing a disservice to the sport itself, which is about being one with nature – not getting wasted on chemicals..

      June 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • goldtrader

      Denial:> Drug addiction is an illness that can be treated


      Denial:> Help young impressionable surfers avoid drugs

      Why should they stop when drugs did not cause there hero's death! Maybe drugs helped him win?

      Denial:> How about setting up rehab clinics?

      Hay the guy might have been a millionaire, but he was not a billionaire. The Betty Ford center can cost a druggie a $1,000.00 a day.

      June 10, 2011 at 6:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Fiona

    No matter what disease or addiction leads to a death, the official cause of death is often " cardiac arrest.". This was the notation on my father's and several of my relatives' death certificates. All died as a result of late-stage cancer. Andy Irons may have had severe hardening of the arteries, but drugs killed him.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Phil

    I believe i have heard this nonsense regarding several people's deaths over the past several years. Known drug addicts who have drugs in their systems, however the medical examiner states that the drugs had nothing to do with the death. I say BS. Its always the drugs. How do you think the heart got in such bad shape. Why report anything if its just going to be full of lies.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Billy Davis

    Kelly Slater won 10 Champioships ya' kooks

    June 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Daniel

    The Autopsy results shows that DRUGS were a factor in his death.....

    June 9, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dutspup

    so just say the cocaine did it, duhhhhhhh.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Philip

    Mean people's hearts get physically harder. They do! The heart isn't just a pump ya know. People who seek to profit from other people's misery are particularly at risk. It's not just the arteries that suffer from a cold hard heart(ed person)

    June 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Patrick

    Much Aloha to the Irons family, especially Lindy and the new baby. I live on Oahu and got to have my picture taken with Andy after his 06 Pipemaster win. He was something amazing and had a powerful energy. We all have our vices and struggle with them but his life should be shining example of how to charge, because at the end of the day it's willpower that makes you great and Andy was.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • helloeyes

      NO NO NO – more denial from the surf community. His life should be a shining example of how NOT to charge ahead as if you are invincible because, clearly, he was not invincible.

      June 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Andrey

    Sad, but his family isn't doing themselves or anyone else any favors by whitewashing what really happened. The drugs he was doing wrecked his heart and arteries, and even an athlete's heart finally gave out from the abuse inflicted over the years.

    June 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. randy

    May aunt had a stroke (survived with paralysis) because of crack cocaine. Cocaine kills. It's not a "fun" drug it kills.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. toto

    It is very sad this happen. by the CNN story apparently he was up to no good – doing cocaine – and " surfing the ONLY think that keep you leveled?????

    How about you pregnant wife with your son???? How about being a good father, how about being a good husband, how about being a good role model for the sake of your family. How about mom and father and brothers????How about staying healthy for your family those are the thing that keep people leveled. Riding a wave serves no purpose other than self pleasure for about 45 seconds or a minute. The reciprocal love you get from the people who loves you last a lifetime

    That is sanity – not surfing – the water isn't going anywhere – your peers and the people who loves you won't.

    So sad to have lost a champion, and I wished he could have had someone to talk to. I will always be your fan.

    May GOD give you piece and love.

    June 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
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