Tony Hsieh’s Drug Use Detailed In Court

During a lawsuit over former Zappos CEO’s estate, Tony Hsieh’s family recounted the entrepreneur’s history with drug use. The family of Hsieh claims that his former assistant, along with other people in his inner circle, took advantage of his deteriorated mental state as a result of substance misuse. Hsieh, 46, passed away in a house fire last November. 

The Lawsuit

Jennifer “Mimi” Pham, longtime friend and the ex-assistant of Hsieh, is claiming she is entitled to more than $9 million of Hsieh’s estate for work she did on his behalf. Claims during the current lawsuit detail that Pham’s company, Rove & Whim, was in contract with Hsieh to provide project related and personal assistance services. This included a $30,000 per day fee for these services. Pham’s boyfriend, Roberto Grande, and friend, Tony Lee, are also being accused of benefiting from Hsieh’s decline. Lee is currently requesting $7 million of Hsieh’s estate for providing “assistance” at times during their almost 17 year long friendship. 

Because Hsieh had no will in place when his life ended in 2020, the judge named his father, Richard Hsieh, and brother, Andrew Hsieh, special administrators of his estate. In this past week, the Heish family and their lawyers detailed how substance abuse allowed Pham, Lee, and Grande to exploit Heish’s mental state. 

Hsieh’s Ketamine Use

Hsieh’s family stated that in an effort to ease his social anxiety, Hsieh would often drink alcohol or use substances such as Adderall, Xanax, and Ambien. In November, 2019, Hsieh began experimenting with Ketamine, a substance that has become increasingly popular among teens and young adults at parties, dance clubs, and raves. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Those who use Ketamine report feeling disconnected, not in control, and detached from pain and their environment. This substance is known to cause hallucinations.

As Hsieh continued to misuse Ketamine, his hallucinations became more frequent and elaborate. His family described Hsieh as having “disorganized delusions of grandeur.” They provided an example of these hallucinations through Hsieh’s belief in the “simulation hypothesis” which was the idea that all humans are living in a simulation. Court documents stated that Hsieh felt that Ketamine allowed him to learn the skills needed to defeat the simulation and save humanity. 

The family believes Hsieh was incapable of recognizing how Ketamine was negatively affecting him because he had formed an addiction. This inability to sober up and a continuous lack of sleep were cited as to why he was unable to perform the basic tasks of his role as the CEO of Zappos. 

Hsieh was admitted to a rehab facility in February of 2020 after an intervention was performed by his friends. During treatment, a close friend made a list of behaviors exhibited by Hsieh that led to his intervention. This list included several things that Hsieh believed he could do such as manifest water, transform into animals or objects, and download “talents” to his brain with minimal study. Despite this attempt at treatment and concern from friends, Hsieh continued to use Ketamine and other substances. 

On the way to Montana with friends in June 2020, Hsieh asked his friends to make a suicide pact and exhibited other abnormal behaviors like only packing a box of crayons for the trip. Upon returning home, he was taken to the hospital as he was showing signs of psychosis. After this incident, Hsieh started misusing Nitrous Oxide as a replacement to Ketamine. 

What Is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous Oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” is often used for sedation during medical or dental procedures. This colorless, non-flammable gas causes feelings of light-headedness, relaxation, and hallucinations. Similar to Ketamine, Nitrous Oxide is used recreationally at raves and music festivals. This substance is not often linked to overdose deaths therefore many underestimate the risk of misusing Nitrous Oxide. Despite this, there are negative effects such as lowered blood pressure, heart attack, nerve damage, memory loss, depression, and decreased coordination. 

Because Nitrous Oxide provides a quick high when inhaled, the term “whippets” is often used when talking about recreational use. Those who use Nitrous Oxide recreationally may purchase the substance in “whipped cream charger” canisters or medical gas tanks. The gas is typically transferred to a balloon or plastic bag to be inhaled from. 

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Hsieh Begins Using Nitrous Oxide

Friends of Hsieh claim that he was using up to 50 cartridges of Nitrous Oxide each day and often in public or during meetings. Witnesses described his home and bedroom being littered with hundreds of used cartridges amongst other alarming sights such as broken glass, dog feces, and rotten food. He was also attempting to make his home one with nature by redirecting a stream closer to his patio to be used for dishwashing. He also had decided to replace all electricity with candles and tiki torches which led to his fire alarms going off frequently at all hours of the night. 

When a friend contacted the Hsieh family with concerns of his drug use and dramatic weight loss, they attempted to step in to help. His brother attempted to have vitamins and protein supplements be discreetly added to his diet. Richard, his father, sent an addiction specialist to his home but he was denied access. It was around this time that Hsieh stepped down as CEO of Zappos. 

In November 2020, Hsieh fell asleep in a shed of a Connecticut home after a fight with his girlfriend. The shed, filled with candles, a propane heater, and a 20 lb propane tank, caught fire. It is believed that the fire was caused by one of the candles torching the blanket and a nearby plastic bag. It has been speculated that Hsieh had been using Nitrous Oxide prior to the fire that led to his death. 

What Role Did Pham, Lee, And Grande Play?

“Tony’s true friends, not interested in profiting from Tony’s condition, became increasingly concerned about Tony’s health and many were looking for ways to get Tony professional help. Unfortunately, in the months since Tony had left the rehabilitation facility, several less scrupulous people prominently occupied Tony’s attention and were living at large, all at Tony’s expense,” court documents stated in reference to Hsieh’s relationship with Pham, Lee, And Grande. 

Although knowledge of Hsieh’s misuse of drugs and significant drug use and weight loss were said to be known and acknowledged by Pham, Lee, and Grange, they deny any wrongdoing. Hsieh’s family claims that the group extracted millions from him in a few short months.

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Emily Murray

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  • Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

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