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Surf legend Andy Irons' death investigated as possible overdose

His family says he was suffering from dengue fever, a painful viral illness

By Mike Gordon and Steven Mark

Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 6:33 p.m. HST, Nov 2, 2010

Three-time world surfing champion Andy Irons of Kauai died today in a hotel room in Texas, family and friends confirmed.

His death is being investigated as a possible overdose of methadone, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow but the exact cause of death may require a toxicology test, which could take 60 to 90 days to complete. 
Irons, 32, was on his way home after withdrawing from a surf contest in Puerto Rico. He was found in bed by staff at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when he failed to respond to a wake-up call, the medical examiner's office said. Emergency personnel pronounced him dead at 9:46 a.m.
There were no signs of trauma. But methadone was found inside a container of a prescription drug called zolpidem, the medical examiner said. Zolpidem is commonly used for insomnia, while methadone is a powerful controlled substance used for pain. The container, as well as numerous other medications, was found on a nightstand, the medical examiner said.
Irons had competed briefly this past weekend at an Association of Surfing Professionals World Tour contest in Puerto Rico where his family said today that he was suffering from dengue fever.
Dengue fever is a viral illness transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical climates. Its symptom include intense headaches and joint pain.
Irons had competed in the first round of the Rip Curl Pro Search, but was too sick to continue and withdrew before the second round, his family said. 
Randy Rarick, executive director of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing on Oahu's North Shore, said Irons died during a layover in Texas. 
"Because he couldn't compete, because he was too sick, he decided to fly home," he said. "He checked into a hotel and that's where they found him."
Irons leaves behind a wife, Lyndie, who is seven-months pregnant with the couple's first child.
Irons was expected to compete in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing this month, Rarick said. He had returned to the contest circuit this year after taking a break last season. He was not in contention for the title, but had won a contest earlier this year in Tahiti. 
"We were all looking forward to having him here," Rarick said. "Andy Irons was very passionate about his competitive drive and that's what really allowed him to win world championships."
Irons won three consecutive world titles, from 2002 to 2004, and had 19 victories on the professional tour. He also won the Quiksilver Pro France championships from 2003 to 2005 and the Rip Curl Pro Search titles in 2006 and 2007.
He withdrew from the full ASP World Tour in 2009 and was granted a wild-card entry to tour events this season, winning the Billabong Pro Tahiti in August.
Irons was raised in Hanalei, Kauai, where he began his days surfing the breaks around the island with his younger brother, Bruce, who is also a professional surfer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, dengue fever is the most common cause of fever in travelers returning from the Caribbean, Central America, and South Central Asia. The CDC posted an "outbreak notice" about the mosquito-born virus in June that included Puerto Rico as one of the countries where cases had occurred. The notice also said there has been a general increase in dengue fever since 2009.

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