Bubba Smith Cause of Death: How a Football Legend and a Movie Star Lost His Life to a Diet Pill

Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith was a towering figure in both sports and entertainment. He was a dominant defensive end who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Colts and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was also a successful actor who starred as Moses Hightower in the popular Police Academy series and appeared in numerous TV shows and commercials. But behind his fame and fortune, Smith was struggling with his weight and health issues. On August 3, 2011, he was found dead at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 66. The cause of death was later revealed to be acute drug intoxication and other conditions, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. The drug that killed him was phentermine, a prescription appetite suppressant that he had been taking to lose weight. How did this happen? And what are the risks of using phentermine?

What is phentermine and how does it work?

Phentermine is a medication that belongs to a class of drugs called sympathomimetic amines, which stimulate the central nervous system and reduce the sensation of hunger. It is usually prescribed for short-term use (a few weeks) as part of a weight-loss program that includes diet, exercise, and behavioral modification. Phentermine is intended for people who are obese or have weight-related health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.

Phentermine works by affecting certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, which regulate mood, appetite, and energy levels. By increasing the levels of these chemicals, phentermine can make people feel more alert, energetic, and satisfied with less food. However, this also means that phentermine can interfere with the normal functioning of the brain and cause various side effects.

What are the side effects and risks of phentermine?

Phentermine is not a harmless pill. It can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects, especially if it is used for longer than prescribed, taken in higher doses, or combined with other drugs or substances. Some of the common side effects of phentermine include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Some of the more serious side effects of phentermine include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the ankles or legs
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Phentermine can also cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms if it is stopped abruptly. People who abuse phentermine may experience tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and cravings.

One of the most dangerous complications of phentermine is pulmonary hypertension, which is a rare but potentially fatal condition that affects the blood vessels in the lungs. Pulmonary hypertension can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, fainting, and heart failure. It can occur at any time during or after the use of phentermine, even if there are no previous signs or symptoms.

Another serious complication of phentermine is heart valve disease, which is a condition that affects the valves that regulate the flow of blood in the heart. Heart valve disease can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of the ankles or legs, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and heart failure. It can also increase the risk of stroke or blood clots.

How did phentermine kill Bubba Smith?

According to the autopsy report released by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office1, Smith died from an overdose of phentermine along with other conditions. The report stated that Smith had a large amount of phentermine in his system (0.37 mg/L), which was above the therapeutic range (0.02 to 0.05 mg/L). The report also noted that Smith had heart disease and high blood pressure, which were contributing factors to his death.

It is not clear how long Smith had been taking phentermine or where he got it from. It is possible that he obtained it from an online source or a doctor who prescribed it without proper evaluation or monitoring. It is also possible that he took more than the recommended dose or mixed it with other drugs or alcohol.

Whatever the case may be, Smith’s death was a tragic outcome of his attempt to lose weight and improve his health. His death also raised awareness about the dangers of phentermine and the need for more regulation and education on its use.

What are the alternatives to phentermine?

Phentermine is not the only option for people who want to lose weight and improve their health. There are other ways to achieve these goals without risking one’s life. Some of the alternatives to phentermine include:

  • Lifestyle changes: The most effective and safest way to lose weight and improve health is to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management, and social support. These changes can help people reduce their calorie intake, increase their energy expenditure, improve their mood, and prevent or treat various chronic diseases.
  • Behavioral therapy: Another important component of weight loss and health improvement is behavioral therapy, which is a form of counseling that helps people identify and modify their eating and activity habits, cope with emotional triggers, set realistic goals, monitor their progress, and maintain their motivation. Behavioral therapy can be delivered by a trained professional or through self-help programs or online platforms.
  • Medications: There are some medications that can help people lose weight and improve their health, but they are not a substitute for lifestyle changes and behavioral therapy. They are only prescribed for people who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or 27 or higher with weight-related health problems. They are also used for short-term periods (usually 12 weeks or less) and under close supervision by a doctor. Some of the medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss include orlistat, lorcaserin, phentermine-topiramate, naltrexone-bupropion, and liraglutide. These medications have different mechanisms of action and side effects, and they may not work for everyone. They also require a prescription and can be expensive.
  • Surgery: Another option for people who have severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher, or 35 or higher with weight-related health problems) and who have failed to lose weight with other methods is surgery. There are different types of surgery that can help people lose weight and improve their health, such as gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, gastric banding, and biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch. These surgeries work by reducing the size of the stomach or bypassing part of the digestive tract, which limits the amount of food that can be eaten and absorbed. Surgery can result in significant weight loss and improvement in various health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and joint pain. However, surgery also has risks and complications, such as infection, bleeding, leakage, malnutrition, gallstones, ulcers, hernia, bowel obstruction, dumping syndrome, and death. Surgery also requires lifelong follow-up care and lifestyle changes.


Bubba Smith was a football legend and a movie star who died from an overdose of phentermine, a diet pill that he had been taking to lose weight. His death was a tragic reminder of the dangers of phentermine and the need for more caution and awareness on its use. Phentermine is not a magic bullet for weight loss and health improvement. It can cause serious and sometimes fatal side effects, especially if it is used improperly or abused. There are other ways to achieve these goals without risking one’s life, such as lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, medications, or surgery. These methods may not be easy or quick, but they are safer and more effective in the long run.

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