Policeman Gary Dockery, 43, died Tuesday, a little more than a year after he had emerged from 7 1/2 years in a coma-like state and thrilled his relatives by speaking for several hours.
Dockery made headlines around the world when he inexplicably stirred and started talking on Feb. 11, 1996, before lapsing back into a mostly silent existence.
In his brief period of speaking, Dockery recalled camping trips, his green Jeep and the names of his horses and told his sons, ages 12 and 20, that he loved them.
An autopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of death.
In 1988, Dockery fell into the stupor after he was shot point-blank by a drunk man angry at police for reprimanding him for making noise that bothered his neighbors.
On Tuesday, the paralyzed officer, who had to be fed intravenously, was bathed and dressed as usual and was waiting his turn for physical therapy when something went wrong.
Susan Showalter, a spokeswoman at the Alexian Village of Tennessee nursing home on Signal Mountain, about 10 miles from Chattanooga, said only that he was "in distress." He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
"I still had hopes we'd be able to help him," neurologist Bruce Kaplan said Tuesday. "But his death may prove to be a relief for Gary and his family. We'd never be able to give him back more than a fragment of his former life, even if we had kept trying."
Dockery's family was said to be too distraught to speak with reporters.
In January, relatives said they were encouraged by what they called the small wonders that followed his speaking spree. Dockery had learned to operate a motorized wheelchair, which he moved by listening to a nurse's command and pushing a lever.
Doctors conducted brain tests and experimented with various drugs to reproduce or understand why Dockery started talking, but the results were inconclusive.
When Dockery was scheduled for surgery around the time that he spoke, his family said that if he died, they were thankful for one last time to talk to him.