A minor traffic accident triggered entertainer Steve Allen’s death two months ago, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Friday.
Allen, who suffered from a heart condition, was driving to the Encino home of his son, Bill, on Oct. 30 when his car was struck by a sport utility vehicle backing out of a driveway, according to Scott Carrier, a spokesman for the coroner’s office.
The impact ruptured a blood vessel in Allen’s chest, which allowed blood to leak into the sack surrounding his heart, Carrier said. This condition, known as hemopericardium, caused the 78-year-old entertainer’s death, Carrier said.
A heart attack had initially been suspected, but the coroner’s office disclosed in November that it was looking into the accident as a possible factor.
“What launched the investigation was that his attending physician listed the minor traffic accident on his death certificate,” Carrier said.
The Los Angeles Police Department declined to release details of the accident. “We’re looking into the matter to determine what should be done,” said a spokesman, Officer Don Cox, declining to say more.
Bill Allen recalled Friday that his father said “not one word” about the accident upon arriving at his home shortly after the collision. Jayne Meadows, the comedian’s wife of more than 40 years, was equally surprised to learn of the accident, Bill Allen said.
“My mother and I have not fully come to grips with this,” he said. “We were so convinced that the Lord had taken a good man because it was his time. So this is something that’s really hard for us to accept.”
The accident caused minor damage to Allen’s car. The comedian and the other driver exchanged names and information before Allen drove on to his son’s house.
Arriving there, Allen complained of not feeling well and decided to rest. Found unconscious by his son a short time later, he was taken to Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 9 p.m.
Steve Allen suffered from occlusive coronary arteriosclerosis, a condition that creates a hardening of the arteries, Carrier said. The veteran entertainer had occasionally been in ill health over the last decade, including a bout with colon cancer.
The coroner’s office completed Allen’s autopsy Nov. 9 and finished its report on the death last week. The coroner delayed releasing information until Friday to ensure that Allen’s relatives had received the report first, Carrier said.
The death was ruled an accident, he said. Routine toxicology tests performed on Allen found no alcohol or drugs, he added.
Steve Allen, who was once honorary mayor of Encino, hosted the original “Tonight” show, wrote books and composed thousands of songs during his eclectic career.
In the days before he died, he performed before a sold-out audience at Victor Valley College, worked on promotional plans for the December release of his 53rd book, “Steve Allen’s Private Joke File” and completed the manuscript for a planned book, “Vulgarians at the Gate,” about violence and vulgarity in the media.
The son of vaudeville actors, Allen charmed radio and television audiences for decades with his inspired shtick, much of it ad-libbed.
As the original host of “Tonight” in the mid-1950s, Allen invented the genre of late-night TV and redefined the art of comedy, serving up screwball skits featuring such characters as the Question Man and antics such as the very emotional reading aloud of letters to the editor.
Allen made millions of dollars from his television shows, his commercials for Mocha Mix creamer and Restonic mattresses, his lectures and royalties on the 8,500 songs that put him in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most prolific composer of modern times.”
Times staff writer Karen Robinson-Jacobs contributed to this story.