Connect with us


Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months Of The Zappos Visionary | Forbes




In the early morning hours of the day after Thanksgiving, Tony Hsieh died from his exposure to a shocking house fire in Connecticut, where he had been staying. He was just 46.

In the days since, the outpouring of grief has rivaled any for a business leader since the passing of Steve Jobs a decade ago. From Bill Clinton to Ivanka Trump to Jeff Bezos, thousands of people weighed in to share memories, photos and videos of a man who was widely loved, preserving the legacy of a tech entrepreneur who made an impact not just on his peers, but on his employees and even complete strangers, each reciting stories of exceptional generosity, humanity and vision.

Taken together, the memories of Hsieh paint an image of a man whose mission in life was to create happiness. This took shape in many ways. In pioneering, at Zappos, the concept of an online store fueled by a customer-first, no-questions-asked return policy, Hsieh arguably had a bigger effect on online retail than anyone short of Bezos himself. In investing $350 million into downtown Las Vegas, he lovingly turned a seedy part of town into an arts, cultural and tech hub, with a community of Airstream trailers, one of which Hsieh lived in for years. As a business evangelist, the 2010 title of his New York Times number one bestseller said it all: Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion and Purpose.

But while he directly (by the tens of thousands) and indirectly (by the millions) delivered on making other people smile, Hsieh was privately coping with issues of mental health and addiction. Forbes has interviewed more than 20 of his close friends and colleagues over the past few days, each trying to come to grips with how this brightest of lights had met such a dark and sudden end.

Reconciling their accounts, one word rises up: tragedy. According to his friends and family, Hsieh’s personal struggles took a dramatic turn south over the past year, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed the nonstop action that Hsieh seemingly craved. According to numerous sources with direct knowledge, Hsieh, always a heavy drinker, veered into frequent drug use, notably nitrous oxide. Friends also cited mental health battles, as Hsieh often struggled with sleep and feelings of loneliness—traits that drove his fervor for purpose and passion in life. By August, it was announced that he had “retired” from the company he built, and which Amazon had let him run largely autonomously since paying $1.2 billion for Zappos in 2009. Friends and family members, understanding the emerging crisis, attempted interventions over the past few months to try to get him sober.

Read the full profile on Forbes:

Subscribe to FORBES:

Stay Connected
Forbes newsletters:
Forbes on Facebook:
Forbes Video on Twitter:
Forbes Video on Instagram:
More From Forbes:

Forbes covers the intersection of entrepreneurship, wealth, technology, business and lifestyle with a focus on people and success.