Television pitchman extraordinaire Billy Mays’ cocaine use was a contributing factor in his death, stated the Hillsborough County medical examiner’s final autopsy report. Issued Friday, the report stated that cocaine use, along with his family’s predisposition to heart disease, contributed to Billy Mays’ death. He died suddenly on June 28 of a heart attack in his home in Florida last month, shocking the entertainment and business world. The seeming picture of robust health, the energetic and charismatic Billy Mays was only 50 years old. At first, various causes for his sudden demise were considered, including one where he may have suffered a traumatic head injury on an airplane flight, but preliminary findings were indeterminate.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Hillsborough County medical examiner Dr. Leszek Chrostowski stated in a news release, “Mr. Mays died form a lethal arrhythmia of the heart caused by hypertensive and arteriosclerotic heart disease,” and added that cocaine use “caused or contributed to” the development of Billy Mays’ heart ailment. However, the medical examiner said, the popular pitchman was not intoxicated at the time of this death. Tests showed that Billy Mays had used cocaine in the days leading up to his death and that his system also showed usage of prescription hydrocodone, oxycodone and tramadol, which Mays took for chronic pain he experienced in his hip, for which he had had two surgeries in the past.
“Cocaine,” county officials explained, “can raise the arterial blood pressure, directly cause thickening of the wall of the left ventricle of the heart, and accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.”
Deborah May, Billy Mays’ wife, quickly issued a statement saying that the family was considering a second, private autopsy. She said that the Hillsborough County medical examiner’s final autopsy report, which had been awaiting toxicology test results, revealed a “speculative conclusion” with regard to the cocaine entry and that the family was “totally unaware of any nonprescription drug usage and are actively considering an independent evaluation of the autopsy results.” Deborah Mays also said that the findings distracted from Billy Mays cause of death, which she stated was untreated hypertension.
Whether done as a reputation face-saving gesture or for legal reasons (or both), Billy Mays’ family’s decision to get an independent, private individual or company to do a separate autopsy has become the norm of late.
When David Carradine was found hanged in Bangkok, preliminary findings by Thailand police officials and clinical autopsies that the actor’s death met the criteria for accidental death prompted the family to seek a second autopsy. Those findings corroborated the original Thai conclusions (initially; however, toxicology results were still pending at the time of this writing). Michael Jackson’s family, suspecting that there might have been foul play involved in the death of the pop singer, also ordered a second, independent autopsy. Neither the official Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office final report nor Michael Jackson’s family’s private autopsy report have been released to the public.
Getting a second opinion, even in death, is sometimes the prudent course of action. Whether or not a case merit’s a second autopsy is situational, but when legal issues, civil cases, reputations, and estates are involved, getting a second, independent autopsy should be standard form. Not to call in question the expertise of the medical examiners and coroners and medical clinicians doing autopsies as a daily routine, but to help ensure integrity in the findings as to causes of death and to protect the rights of the dead, their estates, and the many things their death might impact.