Zappos Founder Tony Hsieh Was Obsessed with Fire, Testing Body Prior to Deadly Blaze: Report
Friends told the Wall Street Journal that Tony Hsieh would try sometimes dangerous experiments on his body, like depriving himself of food and oxygen
Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s fascination with fire and his tendency to test the limits of his body in extreme, and often dangerous, ways grew more erratic prior to his tragic death in late November, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Multiple close friends spoke to the newspaper in a report published Sunday that detailed an alleged downward spiral by Hsieh that involved drugs like mushrooms and ecstasy, and an increase in alcohol intake following his retirement from Zappos in August.
“Things were falling apart for him,” friend Philip Plastina told the outlet.
Plastina said that many of Hsieh’s longtime friends and family were in San Francisco’s Bay Area and Las Vegas, and that when Hsieh moved to Park City, Utah earlier this year, his new social circle enabled his harmful behavior.
Real estate agent Paul Benson sold Hsieh a $16 million mansion in Park City, and said he was struck by the tech executive’s massive collection of candles, which he estimated to be around 1,000, WSJ reported.
Benson said that Hsieh explained the candles as “a symbol of what life was like in simpler times,” as Hsieh’s friends said that his fascination with fire had grown larger in recent months, according to the outlet.
Hsieh died on Nov. 27 at the age of 46 after sustaining injuries in a Nov. 18 Connecticut house fire, PEOPLE previously reported. A statement provided to PEOPLE from DTP Companies, which Hsieh founded in 2012, said he died surrounded by family.
Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later confirmed to PEOPLE that Hsieh died from complications of smoke inhalation and his death was ruled as an accident.
Just one day before the fatal fire broke out, Hsieh was in the process of making plans to check into a rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii, the WSJ reported.
On that day, he allegedly told the people he was with — including his brother and longtime girlfriend — that he was going into a shed attached to the house, and that he should be checked on every five minutes.
Those present alleged that the shed contained a heater that Hsieh used to lower the oxygen level, according to the WSJ.
Though it remains unclear just why Hsieh requested he be checked on, his friends told the outlet that Hsieh often liked testing his body in extreme ways, and would sometimes try to determine which necessities he could live without.
One friend reportedly said that Hsieh’s weight fell to under 100 pounds as he starved himself of food and also attempted to stop himself from urinating.
The same friend told the WSJ that Hsieh would deprive himself of oxygen in favor of nitrous oxide, which can induce hypoxia, a below-normal level of oxygen level in the blood, specifically the arteries, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Another friend, former Zappos employee Dr. Mark Guadagnoli, said that Hsieh would run experiments on himself, like sleeping just four hours per day, and climbing Southern California’s three highest peaks in one day.
Guadagnoli also spoke of food-related tests, and told the outlet that Hsieh once tried a 26-day diet in which he began the first day only eating foods that started with the letter “A” and so on as he made it through the alphabet. Friend Paul Carr said that by the time he got to “Z,” Hsieh was basically fasting.
Just as Hsieh’s friends expressed concerns regarding enablers, so, too, did singer Jewel, who reportedly cautioned Hsieh, a longtime friend, about his lifestyle shortly before his death.
According to a report published by Forbes last week, Jewel wrote Hsieh a letter that warned him about “taking too many drugs” after she performed a private acoustic set for him in Park City in August. (A representative for Jewel did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.)
"I am going to be blunt," she wrote in the letter, obtained by 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."
Jewel reportedly told Hsieh in the note that "people you are surrounding yourself with are either ignorant or willing to be complicit in you killing yourself."
In a statement following his death, DTP Companies, which did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, remembered him as a ray of light who bettered the people around him.
"Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world," the statement read. "Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life."
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.