Valium, alcohol killed painter Kinkade: autopsy

By Garance Burke, AP

SAN FRANCISCO–Artist Thomas Kinkade died from an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription tranquilizers, but his heart had grown so enlarged that he was vulnerable to a fatal heart attack at any point, according to a detailed autopsy report released Tuesday.

The self-described “Painter of Light” died on April 6 of an acute combination of ethanol and Diazepam intoxication, or in common terms, of alcohol and the tranquilizer marketed as Valium, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office said.

The 54-year-old Kinkade’s sentimental scenes of country gardens and pastoral landscapes led to a commercial empire of franchised galleries, reproduced artwork and spin-off products that was said to fetch some US$100 million a year in sales.

In recent years, however, he had run into personal difficulties, including a 2010 bankruptcy filing by one of his companies and an arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence that same year outside Carmel, California.

Kinkade’s companion found him in the bed they shared at his Monte Sereno home, four hours after he was last known to be alive, said Joseph O’Hara, Santa Clara County’s lead medical examiner. Some of his fingernails still held a residue of green paint, and his toenails were polished a glittery gold, the autopsy report said.

O’Hara described the 6-foot (1.83-meter), 254-pound (115-kilogram) Kinkade as mildly obese and noted that he suffered from systemic hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

“His heart was so big that at any time he was vulnerable,” O’Hara said. “Apparently he had given up drinking and maybe he had just started again. His levels were definitely in the toxic range.”

Several other drugs, including two other prescription tranquilizers, were present in his bloodstream. Kinkade’s urine contained gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, which occurs naturally in the human body but can also be used as the so-called date rape drug.

O’Hara said the painter also had suffered several remote blunt force injuries.

“He had a bruise of his abdomen that was healing, a bruise under his scalp, a hemorrhage under his head, as well as multiple healed rib fractures,” O’Hara said. “He took a tumble at some point.”

O’Hara said he could not release further details about the circumstances in which Kinkade was found or the activities leading to his death, given the pending investigation.

His brother Patrick Kinkade did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday but has said the painter battled alcoholism and had relapsed before his death.

Kinkade’s commercial successes did not endear him with the art establishment, who criticized him for appearing to appeal to the widest possible audience, his brother told The San Jose Mercury News.

The attacks on his work and the artist’s split with his wife two years ago took a toll, and he turned to alcohol over the past four or five years, Patrick Kinkade said.

“As much as he said it didn’t bother him, in his heart deep down inside it would sadden him that people would criticize, so hatefully, his work and his vision, when people didn’t understand him,” said Patrick Kinkade, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University.