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Harvey Pekar died from an accidental medication overdose, coroner finds

Harvey Pekar

Legendary comics writer Harvey Pekar died on July 12 as a result of an accidental overdose of antidepressants, a coroner has determined.

Pekar, 70, was found dead by his wife Joyce Brabner in their Cleveland Heights, Ohio, home. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller ruled his death by natural causes. “He did not take his own life,” said a spokesman for the coroner’s office. “His death came as a result of accidental ingestion of fluoxetine and bupropion.”

Fluoxetine, often marketed as Prozac, is used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic attacks. Bupropion, also known as Wellbutrin or Zyban, is prescribed for depression and smoking cessation; it poses a risk of seizure when taken incorrectly.

Pekar, best known for his American Splendor series of autobiographical comics that inspired the acclaimed 2003 film of the same name, had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990, which inspired him to collaborate with Brabner and Frank Stack on Our Cancer Year.

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Comments

19 Comments

Strange that he would die from a similar condition usually reserved for celebrities, such as Michael Jackson. Apart from his movie, that’s the closest he’d ever get to Hollywood status.

The difference being that I’m sure his family won’t try to sue his doctor for wrongful prescription.

Very sad to hear it.

A nurse I know said youd have to take at least a half bottle of either to be lethal.
This is very sad either way.

Well, that’s depressing. (Well, that’s ironic.)

How odd that the coroner’s name is Frank Miller.

“Well, that’s depressing. (Well, that’s ironic.)”

Odd sense of humour.

I’m with Jerry, Prozac and Wellbutrin are fairly mild drugs and it seems hard to believe that you could accidentally take a lethal dose. Something doesn’t quite add up with the facts as presented.

Col. Glen Manning

October 20, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The coroner said it was an accident. Let it lie.

DeBt, you’re an idiot.

Such a tragedy. Loved this man, love his work. Thank you, Harvey.

“Prozac and Wellbutrin are fairly mild drugs…”
They are mild in that they have few side effects, but the issue is when they reach toxic levels. The PDR states that anything over 450mg of Wellbutrin can be dangerous. That is only three 150mg pills. Combined with alcohol, Prozac, and OTC medicines like so-called ‘vitamins’ or herbal remedies, alcohol, health issues, and who knows what else he took… Well kiddies, let’s just take our prescribed doses.

After being on medication for a long period of time, one naturally develops a tolerance. Folks have also been known to forget if they’ve taken their meds and take a second dose by accident.

I absolutely believe it is possible this was an accident, but if it wasn’t, more power to him. Perhaps he felt he’d been through enough. Either way, the man was an everyman genius. He will always be one of my heroes. He elevated “ordinary life” to the level of art. He made finding a good pair of shoes at a thrift store seem like a triumph. He made the daily grind a little more bearable for a lot of us with his gift for finding truth in small moments.

Rest in Peace, Harvey Pekar. You earned it.

“Folks have also been known to forget if they’ve taken their meds and take a second dose by accident.”

I will accept that as the answer to this puzzle.

— MrJM

The coroner is named Frank Miller? Spooky!! Too bad for Harvey, although it seems he was in a lot of pain from all thos illneses

MizJames wrote: “I absolutely believe it is possible this was an accident, but if it wasn’t, more power to him. Perhaps he felt he’d been through enough.”

There is absolutely no way that I can accept a possibility that Harvey Pekar committed suicide. From what I know of the man – and like most of you, I only “know” him through his comics, though I have met him a few times – it’s my opinion that there’s absolutely no way that Harvey would have intentionally taken his own life.

OK SkeptiSys, you’ve convinced me…three pills could be an accident, definitely.

As a psychiatrist and comic book fan, I smell a rat.

It is correct that Prozac and Wellbutrin are much safer in overdose than older antidepressants, such as the tricyclic class of antidepressants. Overdoses of those would often cause lethal cardiac arrhythmias. In contrast, it is virtually unheard of to attribute a death to overdose on Prozac or Wellbutrin, even if taken together, even with other medications. It would likely be the other medications and/or alcohol or somesuch that would be the real culprit.

The lethality of medication can be quantified by using a term called the LD50. This is the dose of medication that causes 50 percent of the animal subjects to die in a study. The LD50 of Wellbutrin was determined to be 600 mg/kg in rat studies by Budavari in 1996. Extrapolating to humans, the lethal dose for a 70 kg man would be 42,000 mg of Wellbutrin. Even if the rat is not a perfect model for human physiology, it still gives a rough idea of the safety of these newer medications.

Coroners have often been known to fudge causes of death. For example, if a family is Catholic, a kind-hearted coroner can say “accident” instead of “suicide” so as to comfort the survivors in the fact that their beloved is not going to hell for violating God’s will against suicide. Or, if a person leaves behind a family that is struggling financially, then “accident” does not void life insurance policies, while “suicide” would, preventing the survivors from collecting a payout.

Not trying to be too morbid or disrespect the man – just throwing in my 2c as food for thought.

R.I.P., Harvey.

Gary wrote: “There is absolutely no way that I can accept a possibility that Harvey Pekar committed suicide. From what I know of the man – and like most of you, I only “know” him through his comics, though I have met him a few times – it’s my opinion that there’s absolutely no way that Harvey would have intentionally taken his own life.”

From what I know, suicide and depression don’t really work like you presuppose in your comment. When you’re really depressed you don’t think straight, so, very few suicides are the result of someone rationally deciding to end his/her life. That would be more common in fiction, I think. Suicides are not usually well thought out expressions of the victim’s character, they’re often better understood as the results of an illness.

People need to get over the stigma of suicides as being “bad” or “terrible” or “cowardly”, or all of the other similar negative stereotypes that abound, the way they are. It is only “bad” in the sense that someone has died. NO ONE (for the most part, probably 99% of the time) commits suicide when in a “normal” and “healthy” mental and/or emotional state. There should be NO shame for the person or their family or anyone else. All of this “bad” crap is mostly heaped on by religion and stupid religious beliefs, like “if you commit suicide you will go to Hell.” That is where MOST of the negativity and stigma comes from. Which is pure and utter BS, and one of the many reasons why so-called “religions” should be outlawed. (forcing your children to believe “magical thinking” should be a form of child abuse) Some Idiot way back when probably thought, “Well, if we tell people that they will go to Hell if they commit suicide, then they won’t do it, and we’ll wrap it in religion to make it extra strong”. Most of the greater problems with the world are directly and indirectly tied to and stem from religion.

That’s right BeeDee. Stalin, Hitler, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Attila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible all stem from Religion. Hey let’s get rid of Religion and everything will be peaceful and normal-like.
I get so tired of these asinine statements on the internet. I myself am irreligious but so many small minds are looking the wrong way for the problem, so they’ll never even accidentally find an answer.
By the way Harvey you did good. Rest in peace buddy.

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