Herbalife owner autopsy inconclusive


Why did 44-year-old Mark Reynolds Hughes, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Herbalife International, Inc., die suddenly in bed at home in Malibu late Sunday morning?

According to spokesperson Scott Carrier of the Los Angeles County Department of the Coroner, the results of an autopsy Tuesday morning are inconclusive.

Testing of tissue samples will provide more answers in four to six weeks, he said.

Foul play is not suspected.

“There is no evidence of external trauma that might suggest criminal wrongdoing,” Carrier said.

The Coroner’s office conducted a routine exam, Carrier said, including testing for toxic drugs and alcohol.

“We have to wait for microscopic studies of tissues taken at the time of the autopsy,” he said.

The tissue studies, among the 65,000 performed annually by the Department of the Coroner, will take at least a month to complete, he said.

Tuesday afternoon doctors were filling out paperwork that would release Hughes’s body to his family for burial or cremation. The cause of death is legally “deferred,” and it will be added later to the death certificate as an amendment when the toxicology results come back.

As another matter of routine, the case was assigned to Sheriff’s homicide detectives. According to a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, “everything is pending.”

Unless there is evidence that Hughes’ death was the result of causes other than natural ones, they will not be required to investigate.

Hughes’ wife found him Sunday morning “lifeless and unresponsive,” according to Carrier. She notified paramedics, who received the call at 11:15 a.m. They responded to Hughes’s home at 33064 Pacific Coast Highway.

The paramedics attempted CPR, but Hughes was pronounced dead at the scene.

Reports indicate that Hughes had no negative medical history, no life-threatening diseases and had not been under the care of a doctor, though Hughes is reported to have suffered from asthma.

The Hughes residence was built by Verna Harrah of the Harrah family of Reno, Nevada. Hughes, a newcomer to Malibu, had purchased the home for $25,000,000 less than six months ago.

A charismatic leader, Hughes founded the Herbalife empire of weight loss and nutritional products in 1980 at the age of 24, and initially sold his diet and health products out of the trunk of his car. The company, which is international, does business in 48 countries. It has 750 thousand sales people nationwide and does $1.7 billion in sales per year. With a formal educational lasting through only the 9th grade, he went on to become one of L.A. County’s highest paid executives, earning $17 million in 1998. He clashed with the Food and Drug Administration and the California Attorney General’s office over the way the company’s products were marketed. Regulators contended the company was making medicinal claims. Medicines are regulated by the FDA, while nutritional supplements are not.

Hughes defended his products against charges they were sold with false health claims.

Responding to a panel of Senate investigators in 1985, Hughes said, “If they’re such experts, then why are they fat? I’ve lost 16 pounds in the last few years.”

He said he went into the business because his mother tried constantly to lose weight. She died from a drug overdose when Hughes was 18.

Hughes made an unsuccessful bid to take his company private, bidding $510 million in September. The plan collapsed in April.

Herbalife International, Inc., a multilevel marketing company that relies on independent distributors to sell its products, named a new Chief Operating Officer Monday, Christopher Pair.