Andy Irons, a three-time world surfing champion whose unexpected death last November made headlines around the world, perished as a result of a heart attack and drug use, according an autopsy report.
Heart attack is listed as the primary cause of death. However, the autopsy report, a portion of which was released Wednesday by a publicist for the Irons family, lists as a secondary cause "acute mixed drug ingestion."
It cites Alprazolam (Xanax), methadone, methamphetamine and benzoylecgonine. The latter drug is a product sometimes associated with cocaine.
Irons was said to have been suffering from a flu-like illness during a competition in Puerto Rico and had been trying to travel to his home in Kauai, Hawaii. He died on Nov. 2 in a Texas hotel room during a layover, at the age of 32.
The surfer, who won consecutive world titles from 2002-04, was survived by his wife, Lyndie, who was pregnant with the couple's first child, and younger brother and fellow pro surfer, Bruce.
An unsigned version of the autopsy report was released to the family's attorney this week by the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office in Fort Worth, Texas. Delays in releasing the report have fueled suspicions that Irons, who has had previous troubles with drugs, might have overdosed.
The Irons family consulted experts to help review and explain the findings. Among them was Vincent Di Maio, a prominent forensic pathologist in San Antonio. He's quoted in the family statement as saying:
"This is a very straightforward case. Mr. Irons died of a heart attack due to focal severe coronary atherosclerosis, i.e., 'hardening of the arteries.' He had an atherosclerotic plaque producing 70%-80% narrowing of his anterior descending coronary artery. This is very severe narrowing. A plaque of this severity, located in the anterior descending coronary artery, is commonly associated with sudden death."
The doctor continued: "The only unusual aspect of the case is Mr. Irons’ age, 32 years old. Deaths due to coronary atherosclerosis usually begin to appear in the late 40’s."
Di Maio added, "There were no other factors contributing to the death."
A signed version of the autopsy report, prepared by Tarrant County chief medical examiner Nizam Peerwani, will be released on June 20.
Regarding the listing of a secondary cause of death in the official report, and the gifted but oft-troubled surfer, the Irons family statement included this entry:
"As we are not doctors, we have no choice but to accept that two respected pathologists have come to different conclusions about a secondary contributing cause of death. However, the family would like to address the findings of prescription and non-prescription drugs in Andy’s system.
"Andy was prescribed Xanax and Zolpidem (Ambien) to treat anxiety and occasional insomnia – a result of a bipolar disorder diagnosed by his family doctor at age 18. This is when Andy first began experiencing episodes of manic highs and depressive lows.
"The family believes Andy was in some denial about the severity of his chemical imbalance and tended to blame his mood swings on himself and his own weaknesses, choosing to self-medicate with recreational drugs. Members of his family, close friends, and an industry sponsor intervened over the years to help Andy get clean, but the effort to find balance in his life was certainly complicated by his chemical makeup."
Whatever his chemical makeup, he was one of the best competitive surfers ever to strap on a leash.
The family is asking that those who wish to honor Irons' memory do so by making a donation to the Surfrider Foundation.
--Image of Andy Irons is courtesy of © ASP / SCHOLTZ