Investigation Continues in Death of Tony Hsieh, Former Zappos CEO Helped Revive Downtown Las Vegas    

Posted on: November 30, 2020, 01:09h. 

Last updated on: December 1, 2020, 07:59h.

The investigation into retired Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s death continued early this week. The 46-year-old Hsieh, who spent millions helping transform downtown Las Vegas, died Friday after injuries in a Connecticut house fire.

Tony Hsieh Death
Tony Hsieh gestures during a 2015 interview in California. The former Zappos CEO died Friday after being injured in a fire in Connecticut. (Image: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The son of immigrants from Taiwan, Hsieh (pronounced Shay) helped bring vibrancy back into downtown Las Vegas after it had struggled through years of economic doldrums. The historic Fremont Street casino district is downtown, including longtime properties such as the El Cortez, Binion’s, and the Golden Nugget. The state’s largest resorts are on the Las Vegas Strip, outside city limits.

Labeled a visionary for his work in Las Vegas, Hsieh was injured in a Nov. 18 blaze in New London, Connecticut, according to published accounts. He reportedly was in the area with his brother.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told the Hartford Courant on Monday that Hsieh’s death was caused by complications of smoke inhalation. People at the scene said Hsieh had been locked in a storage area with smoke coming out of it, authorities said. The investigation into the incident remained active on Monday.

Though officials declined to name the victim in the fire, New London Fire Chief Thomas Curcio told the Hartford newspaper only one fire with injuries occurred that day. This fire was at 500 Pequot Ave., a home owned by Zappos employee Rachael Brown, according to published accounts. The five-bedroom, $1.3-million house is on the Thames River.

The fire chief said crews arrived about 3:30 am and discovered “somebody trapped in a portion of the house.” Firefighters forced their way in, removed the victim, and performed CPR. He was taken to a New London hospital and later flown to the Connecticut Burn Center in Bridgeport. Bridgeport is about 65 miles west of New London.

Employee’s Connecticut Residence

Brown is a longtime Zappos employee living in Las Vegas. Her Facebook page notes she is from Niantic, Connecticut, and attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In Las Vegas, Brown is a cellist with Nina Di Gregorio’s Bella Electric Strings ensemble and David Perrico’s Pop Strings orchestra, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Brown joined Zappos in 2004 as one of the first 100 employees, the company website states. She was hired as a temporary phone representative. After two months, Hsieh promoted her to lead a team teaching employees the company’s core values. On the website, Brown said the company was trusting her “to teach culture before we had core values.”

If someone was a culture fit, I was to help them succeed,” she said.

The 10 core values now include “be humble,” “create fun and a little weirdness,” and “be adventurous, creative and open-minded.”

Hsieh’s Legacy

The former Zappos CEO was honored Saturday with a tribute on the Fremont Street Experience canopy in downtown Las Vegas’ casino district.

In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion, retaining Hsieh to run the online shoe-and-clothing company. The term Zappos is an adaptation of “zapatos,” the Spanish word for shoes, according to the New York Times.

Hsieh has been praised for his role in bringing Zappos to an old City Hall building downtown and pledging $350 million to revitalize the area. Among other philanthropic efforts, Zappos offered to cover the funeral expenses of the 58 people killed in a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

An unorthodox executive, the Harvard University graduate lived for a time in a 240-foot Airstream trailer in downtown Las Vegas. He paid himself $36,000 a year and sat in a cubicle like other employees, the Times reported.

After more than 20 years with the company, he retired in August and bought homes in Park City, Utah.