By Tetsuhiko Endo, editor of The Inertia

On Friday, June 10th the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office released the toxicology report for Philip Andrew “Andy” Irons. It states that his primary cause of death was a sudden cardiac arrest associated with coronary artery disease with a 70-80 percent stenosis (abnormal narrowing) of one of his arteries. It further states that his secondary cause of death was “acute mixed drug ingestion.” According to the report, the following drugs were found either on his person or in his system: Alprazolam (Xanax), Zolpidem (Ambien), cannabinoids (marijuana), naproxen (anti-inflammatory), cocaethylene (a chemical produced in the body when cocaine and alcohol are mixed that’s linked to causing heart attacks in people under forty), methamphetamine, methadone, and cocaine. The report includes a lengthy “comments” section explaining how cocaine and methadone can impede the work of the heart—thereby making their presence in Irons’ body “significant.” It concludes with the following: “the primary and underlying cause of death is ischemic heart disease due to coronary artery pathology (heart disease). Drugs however, particularly, methadone and cocaine, are other significant conditions contributing to death but not resulting in the underlying cause.”

Some, like Dr. Vincent Di Maio, an award-winning forensic expert and media stalwart hired by the Irons family, believe that drugs did not contribute to Irons’ death. Others, like the numerous doctors anecdotally consulted for this piece, side with the medical examiners in Tarrant County citing the myriad and well-documented ways that prolonged drug use can debilitate the heart. In life, Irons’ rock star combination of savant surfing and personal brashness polarized the surfing community like few other public figures, so it is grimly fitting that his death should do the same.

The premature death of a famous and monetarily influential person is always a tragedy, but never just a tragedy. It is many things to many people: a PR nightmare, the scoop of a lifetime, an inconvenience for a tour that seeks legitimacy, the instant canonization of his legend, a damning comment on celebrity culture, a cautionary tale, the tragic loss of a father, brother, husband and son, an ode to self destruction, an episode better left forgotten, an opportunity to change.

What makes Irons unique is not that he self-destructed; it’s that he did so in full view of his sponsors, the media, and his fans—while he was still one of the best surfers in the world. His story presents an interesting study in the way the surfing world, and action-sports cultures in general, function as they mature into full-blown consumer industries.

Continue reading this story on The Inertia >>

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