May 20, 1999 — Nashville, Tenn. — Following an autopsy that was performed on April 14, it was announced today that Tammy Wynette died a year ago of heart failure, possibly brought on by complications from a chronic blood clotting condition.
Metro medical examiner Dr. Bruce Levy met with reporters to reveal the results of an autopsy that was performed on Wynette on April 14, just over a year after The First Lady of Country Music died at age 55 on April 6, 1998. The autopsy was performed at the request of Wynette’s widow, George Richey, after her daughters filed a $50 million wrongful-death lawsuit in early April against Richey and Wynette’s physician, Dr. Wallis Marsh. The suit claimed that the two men caused her death by failing to closely monitor her fragile condition and inappropriately administering her medication. Richey was later dismissed as a defendant in the suit, although it is still pending against Dr. Marsh.
Representing Wynette’s daughters in their wrongful-death suit, attorney Ed Yarbrough told country.com, “We find what Dr. Levy said today disappointing, but we’re not surprised. We expect qualified experts to add more information to his findings.” Mr. Yarbrough asserted that the suit will not be dropped.
While the cause of death was initially listed as a blood clot in the lung, Dr. Levy said today that in fact there was no evidence of an existing clot at the time of Wynette’s death. However, because of the chronic nature of her condition, there was “significant evidence” of previous clots which compromised her lung arteries. The restricted arteries caused pressure on the right side of Wynette’s heart, which in turn eventually led to the cardiac arrhythmia that killed her. Although two drugs, the sedative Versed and the anti-nausea Phenergan, were found in her system, Dr. Levy emphasized there was no way to scientifically determine if or how the drugs might have contributed to Wynette’s death.
Dr. Levy commented, “If I were asked to testify in court whether I’d classify this as a natural death – yes, I would. I’m very satisfied, based upon the autopsy, that we have as good a picture as we ever are going to have about what medically caused her death.”