Cough syrup cited in rapper Pimp C’s death

Hip-hop star
HIP-HOP STAR: Pimp C, whose real name was Chad Butler, was found dead Dec. 4 at the Mondrian Hotel. The coroner said prescription medicine and sleep apnea caused the death
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Rap artist Pimp C, an influential hip-hop figure who had recorded an ode to getting high from cough medicine, died accidentally at a Sunset Strip hotel because of the combination of a medical condition and cough syrup, the Los Angeles County coroner said Monday.

The 33-year-old Pimp C, whose real name was Chad Butler, was found lying on his bed at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood on Dec. 4 after he failed to check out as expected. The coroner’s report said the death was “due to promethazine/codeine effects and other unestablished factors.”

Ed Winter, assistant chief of the coroner’s office, said the levels of the medication were elevated, but not enough to be deemed an overdose.

But Butler had a history of sleep apnea, a condition that causes the sufferer to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. In tandem with that malady, the cough medication probably suppressed the artist’s breathing long enough to bring on his death, Winter said.

Butler was a member of the Texas hip-hop duo UGK, which scored a No. 1 album last year with its seventh release, “Underground Kingz.”

With the Oscar-winning rap group Three 6 Mafia, UGK recorded “Sippin on Sizzurp;” the lyrics included the line: “I’m choking on that doja sweet and sipping on that sizz-erp.”

Although this track and a collaboration with another high-profile artist, Jay-Z (on the hit “Big Pimpin’ ”), are considered hip-hop classics, UGK’s more enduring claim to fame may be its role in helping to establish Southern rap.

The medication found in Butler’s system has long been a popular intoxicant in the South and particularly parts of Texas, where it is known, in part because of its color, as “purple jelly.” One hip-hop track by the artist Big Mo dubbed Houston “City of Syrup.”

Jose Martinez, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, said the cough syrup is a prescription-only controlled substance but its recreational use is widespread.

“It is not uncommon to see large quantities of the controlled substance being sold and transported,” he said.

The cough syrup is often mixed with soft drinks and called “lean.” It can fetch about $200 on the streets of L.A, he said.

DEA officials said the syrup is usually obtained by doctor shopping, forged prescriptions and pharmacy theft.

A prescription cough medicine was found in Butler’s hotel room, Winter said. The medicine typically carries a warning against use by those with sleep apnea, he said.

In 2002, Butler pleaded no contest to aggravated assault charges brought after he brandished a gun during an argument with a woman at a shopping mall.

After falling behind on court-ordered community service, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, and served about half that at Terrell Prison in Livingston, Texas, before he was paroled in 2005.

Rap fans had made a cause celebre of Butler’s incarceration. “Free Pimp C” T-shirts and baseball caps became popular with UGK fans, and a host of rap stars appeared in music videos and at concerts calling for his release.

At the time of Butler’s death, his manager, Rick Martin, released a statement extending condolences to the artist’s wife and children.

“Chad was finally seeing the results of the years of love and labor that he and Bun B have put in over the years, culminating in the tremendous success of their album, ‘Underground Kingz,’ ” Martin said.

“Chad had everything to live for.”

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