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Abbie Hoffman’s Death Ruled Suicide

Times Staff Writer

A coroner said Tuesday that Abbie Hoffman, a founder of the radical Yippie protest movement of the 1960s, committed suicide by taking a massive overdose of the sedative phenobarbital.

The news came as his family and friends were preparing for a memorial service today in Worcester, Mass. The memorial will include a ‘60s-style peace march led by folk singer Pete Seeger from Hoffman’s mother’s house to the temple he attended as a child.

The gray-haired, bearded, 52-year-old Hoffman was found dead on April 12, fully dressed in bed at his home in New Hope, Pa. The initial autopsy was inconclusive, pending toxicological tests.

In recent years, Hoffman had traveled the college lecture circuit, plumping for environmental causes and to stop the fighting in Nicaragua. Neighbors, relatives and friends said he was depressed and in pain from a recent auto accident.

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“The death was from the combined effects of phenobarbital and alcohol,” the coroner, Dr. Thomas Rosko, told a news conference in Doylestown, Pa., near New Hope.

The coroner said the residue of about 150 phenobarbital pills was found--several times the lethal dose even without the addition of alcohol.

Rosko said Hoffman’s blood alcohol level was .20, two times Pennsylvania’s legal alcohol limit.

“I think it is likely that he literally fell asleep and died in his sleep,” the coroner said. “Other than that, what occurred in his last hours is strictly speculation.”

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In Worcester, where he was completing arrangements for the memorial service, Hoffman’s brother, Jack, told a news conference: “Abbie, as many of you know, was somewhat careless about pills and we always warned him about this kind of thing.”

Hoffman’s mother, Florence, had no comment. Soon after Hoffman’s body was discovered by a neighbor, family members said he had been despondent. Hoffman’s 83-year-old mother said he had sounded very depressed in telephone conversations with his brother and the family assumed he had taken his own life.

“He had to do what he had to do,” she told reporters.

“He was 52 years old,” Hoffman’s brother said, “and I think he gave up.”

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“If Abbie really took his own life, I am sure that he did so in order to leave a powerful message to the young people of America, whom he loved so much,” said William Kunstler, the radical lawyer, who protested side by side with Hoffman against the Vietnam War.

“He sacrificed himself to dramatize the need for them to participate as their ‘60s counterparts did in opposing repression, injustice, racism, sexism, ecological destruction and other pernicious manifestations of a system which places profits before people.”

At his news conference, the coroner said that laboratory tests revealed two other drugs in Hoffman’s system, an agent used for cardiovascular conditions and a tranquilizer. But he said these drugs had no connection with Hoffman’s death.

Jack Hoffman said Tuesday that his brother died almost without funds, despite book contracts and success on the college lecture circuit.

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