Las Vegas Investor Tony Hsieh Had Propane Heater in Shed That Caught Fire, Killing Him

Posted on: January 26, 2021, 12:26h. 

Last updated on: January 27, 2021, 12:35h.

Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, after fighting with his girlfriend, went to a storage shed and used a propane heater to keep warm, according to a news report. He later died from injuries caused by a fire in the shed. He was 46.

Tony Hsieh
Former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gestures while speaking to an audience. The 46-year-old tech guru died after a fire at a home in Connecticut. (Image: Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press)

The morning of the fire, Hsieh used a 20-pound propane tank in the shed attached to a waterfront home in New London, Connecticut, according to KLAS-TV.

The house belonged to Rachael Brown, identified in media accounts as Hsieh’s girlfriend. A musician, Brown joined Las Vegas-based Zappos in 2004. Hsieh had been at the Connecticut residence visiting a brother and Brown.

On Nov. 18, firefighters responding to a blaze about 3:30 am at the $1.3 million home pulled Hsieh out of the attached shed. He was unconscious. Voices heard on emergency dispatch calls indicated a person was “trapped” or “barricaded” in the shed. Firefighters broke into the shed to remove Hsieh. He was lying with a blanket near a candle, KLAS-TV reported.

After crews pulled Hsieh out, the propane tank “was venting product,” according to KLAS-TV. The television station also reported that friends can be seen in video footage bringing a so-called whippet canister to Hsieh. According to a news story on, Hsieh used nitrous oxide “whippets” from whipped cream dispensers.

Emergency crews took Hsieh to a hospital in nearby New London. He then was flown about 65 miles west to the burn center at a hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He was pronounced dead at the hospital on Nov. 27, nine days after the fire.

Hsieh died of complications from smoke inhalation, according to the Connecticut Office of the Medical Examiner.

Lifestyle Concerns

Hsieh retired from Zappos last August after 20 years at the helm of the online shoe and clothing company. He had bought homes in Park City, Utah, and was living there. His conduct in this ski resort town had begun to arouse concern.

People in Park City say Tony Hsieh was high on nitrous oxide all the time and behaved very erratically — Howard Hughes-style — with 500 candles burning in his home — creating a fire threat that the local fire department had to manage,” an unnamed person said in a news story.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Hsieh in the final months was starving himself and weighed under 100 pounds. He also was depriving himself of oxygen and using nitrous oxide, which can induce hypoxia,” the newspaper reported.

His longtime friend, the singer-songwriter Jewel, briefly visited him in Park City, but left after a brief stay. She sent him a blunt” letter afterward, saying he was using too many drugs.

The day before the fire, Hsieh was making plans to check himself into a rehabilitation clinic in Hawaii. A nurse and driver were with him in Connecticut. They were staying at a hotel, KLAS-TV reported.

Las Vegas Legacy

The unmarried Hsieh apparently had not made out a will, leaving a fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions.

A judge in Las Vegas named one of his brothers, Andrew, and father, Richard, as co-special administrators and representatives of his estate.

A Harvard University graduate in computer science, the tech innovator spent millions helping revitalize a neglected area of downtown Las Vegas near the casino district.

After Hsieh’s death, Circa Resort CEO Derek Stevens and others organized a video tribute to him on the electronic canopy covering the downtown Fremont Street pedestrian mall.