Tony Hsieh found himself in a strange new world when the pandemic hit earlier this year, according to friends and former employees of the one-time Zappos CEO. It was when Americans were ordered to stay home that friends of Hsieh told Forbes and The Wall Street Journal that his drinking and use of drugs, like mushrooms and ecstasy, increased, along with his paranoia.
At least one friend did their best to try and help Hsieh — the singer Jewel. Angel Au-Yeung and David Jeans were able to learn what prompted Jewel to say something and see the letter she sent to Hsieh in their reporting for Forbes. She had ventured out to Hsieh's new home in Park City, Utah, back in August, but things were so bad that her trip was cut short.
But within a day, Jewel abruptly left. Shortly after, the singer sent Hsieh a letter via FedEx, since he had forsworn email and texts as part of a digital cleanse.
“I am going to be blunt,” she wrote in the letter, the content of which was shared with Forbes. “I need to tell you that I don’t think you are well and in your right mind. I think you are taking too many drugs that cause you to disassociate.”
She continued: “The people you are surrounding yourself with are either ignorant or willing to be complicit in you killing yourself.”
Hsieh was looking at rehab facilities on the same day he was pronounced dead following a fire at the home of a former co-worker and possible paramour, Rachael Brown. A source tells OK! that Hsieh sounded like he was in good spirits when they spoke on the day of his death. That source also noted how thin Hsieh had become, and said they had heard at one point he was down to 98lbs.
"He was the smartest guy in every room and he definitely worked harder than he played, despite his reputation. He seemed quiet and shy at first but really he had such a big personality. That had just disappeared over the past year," said that source. "But things changed after he stepped down as CEO of Zappos and surrounded himself with a bunch of... when he started to become a shell of the person we all knew and loved."
When asked about what Hsieh was doing to harm himself, that individual only knew that the 46-year-old was starving himself most days. It was far more than that though, according to The Wall Street Journal. In a detailed report about his final days, reporters Kirsten Grind, James R. Hagerty and Katherine Sayre write:
Mr. Hsieh became fixated on trying to figure out what his body could live without, according to one friend. He starved himself of food, whittling away to under 100 pounds; he tried not to urinate; and he deprived himself of oxygen, turning toward nitrous oxide, which can induce hypoxia, this person said.
Mr. Hsieh was increasingly away from his longtime friends and family in San Francisco’s Bay Area and Las Vegas, and was surrounded by a new group that indulged his behavior, close friends said. According to them, the new group, including some former Zappos employees who had moved to Park City from Las Vegas, were taking advantage of Mr. Hsieh, living in his homes and collecting salaries for little work.
“Things were falling apart for him,” said Mr. Philip Plastina, founder of an electronic dance music group who frequently performed at Hsieh’s parties.
There were signs Mr. Hsieh knew he was in trouble. On the night he died, he was making plans to check into a rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii. He was in New London staying with a longtime girlfriend and former Zappos executive, Rachael Brown, along with one of his brothers, Andy Hsieh, and others, said people close to him.
Mr. Hsieh at one point said he was going to a shed that was attached to the home, and asked the people in the house to check on him every five minutes, by the people’s account. They said Tony used a heater in the shed to lower the oxygen level.
It isn’t clear what started the fire. When the others at the house tried to get to him, they couldn’t. One emergency worker was heard telling others he was barricaded inside. Mr. Hsieh died from complications of smoke inhalation, the coroner said.
Hsieh passed away at the age of 46; nine days after being admitted to the hospital he was pronounced dead.