Disturbing Details Found In Garry Shandling's Autopsy Report

In 1977, Garry Shandling was 27 and a struggling comedy writer. He'd abandoned a college education in electrical engineering to pursue showbiz dreams (per The New York Times), but the life of a sitcom staff writer wasn't bringing him much joy. One day, on his way to a haircut, Shandling was caught in a car accident that left him with a punctured spleen, crushed intestines — and a near-death experience. "A voice [asked], 'Do you want to continue leading Garry Shandling's life?'" he recalled for Esquire years later. "Without thinking, I said, 'Yes.' Since then, I've been stuck living in the physical world while knowing, without a doubt, that there's something much more meaningful within it all."

After his brush with death, Shandling left behind staff writing to focus on stand-up comedy. "Life is short," he told the Times, "and one should attempt to fulfill real, true goals even if they feel like dreams that could never happen." That pursuit led him to success, admiration from his peers, and two highly acclaimed television series. GQ called him the "comedian's comedian's comedian," and even as he gradually withdrew from public life in his later years, he remained a highly regarded performer.

Death came in earnest for Shandling in March 2016. Per People, he collapsed while placing a 911 call and passed away in St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica. At the time, doctors told The Hollywood Reporter that no autopsy was planned, and initial reports assumed he died of a heart attack (per TMZ). But Shandling's doctor, uncertain as to the cause of his patient's death, refused to sign the death certificate, triggering a coroner's investigation.

Shandling revealed that he suffered from a rare disorder shortly before his death

In one of his final appearances, on Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" (via The Atlantic), Garry Shandling revealed that he'd been diagnosed with a rare and poorly understood disorder: hyperparathyroidism. Per Mayo Clinic, hyperparathyroidism affects the parathyroid hormones in the neck responsible for generating a hormone that help maintain adequate levels of calcium in the bloodstream. In hyperparathyroidism, too much of the hormone is produced, leading calcium to be leeched from bone tissue and appear in excess quantities in the blood. The condition can lead to kidney stones, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism include forgetfulness, fatigue, excessive urination, and joint pain. Shandling joked to Seinfeld that the disorder's impact on his life was minimal: "The symptoms are so much like being an older Jewish man, no one noticed!" But left untreated (often by surgery), the condition can increase the risk of cancer, dementia, and heart attacks. 

An autopsy found that Shandling died of a pulmonary embolism

Hyperparathyroidism wasn't the only condition Garry Shandling complained about at the end of his life. The Associated Press reported that he'd said he'd not been feeling well after flying out to a Hawaiian holiday, and that the day before he died, Shandling mentioned to friends that he had leg pain and shortness of breath. When the LA County coroner completed his autopsy in December 2016, he found that the complaints related to the cause of death: a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lungs.

The coroner determined that the blood clot first developed in Shandling's legs, a case of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Per the American Society for Hematology, DVT can develop during long stretches of inactivity in cramped spaces, like in an airplane, and the clots can eventually migrate into the lungs. Research has found that hyperparathyroidism can also increase the risk of both DVT and pulmonary embolisms (per the Journal of Clinical Medicine). The coroner's report, obtained by TMZ, was delayed by a review of Shandling's medical history and the toxicology reports done after his death, which found therapeutic levels of prescribed medications.

Whatever the cause, death itself held no great terror for Shandling. He wouldn't go so far as to call himself as a Buddhist, but he observed many Buddhist practices (per GQ), and he took a Buddhist attitude toward death. Per NPR, ahead of potentially dangerous surgery, Shandling wrote in his diary, "Death is not a change. Embrace death. It is freedom. Be open, be ready, be joyful to die."