Death of a Shoe-Man

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted December 08, 2020

At his death on November 27, 2020, Tony Hsieh, just 46 years old, was worth approximately $700 to $840 million, according to some estimates.

A 1995 Harvard University computer science graduate, the self-made millionaire sold his first tech startup, an advertising network called LinkExchange, to Microsoft Corp. for $265 million in 1998. He then became a venture capitalist, one of his investments being, which sold footwear online. From there, he ended up taking the helm, turning ShoeSite into, and, as The New York Times reported, “focused his efforts on building the company into an internet giant.”

In 2000, the firm sold $1.6 million in merchandise. By 2009, that number had soared to $1 billion, thanks in large measure to Hsieh’s intense focus on customer satisfaction. That same year, Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion.

However, Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos, seeing the highly successful corporate ethos created by Hsieh, allowed Zappos to operate autonomously after the sale. In August 2020, however, Hsieh retired from Zappos—or at least that’s the official story.

The Search for Happiness

It was no secret to either his friends or his family that Hsieh had gradually devolved into an unhealthy pattern of alcohol and chemical abuse. This year’s COVID-19 pandemic only seemed to exacerbate the situation.

Hsieh seemed to be on a frantic search for fulfillment in his life. “Most of the frameworks for happiness conclude that there are four things required: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (meaning the depths of relationships) and being part of something bigger than yourself,” the Times quoted him as saying.

But for all his belief that happiness could be scientifically analyzed, Hsieh was an addict who “often struggled with sleep and feelings of loneliness.”

While he professedly knew that money could not buy happiness, having made a 240-square-foot Airstream his home in a downtown area of Las Vegas, Nevada, and “[insisting] on a $36,000 annual salary,” ironically, just several months ago, Hsieh literally “surrounded himself with yes-men” by paying them “double the amount of their highest-ever salary” to “be happy” with him in his new home in Park City, Utah.

He then proceeded to cut off communication with many former colleagues and friends. Multiple interventions failed, including an August letter sent by FedEx from Grammy-nominated singer and good friend Jewel during one of Hsieh’s digital cleanses.

Then, according to the U.K.’s The Daily Mail, while visiting family, “Hsieh died in hospital nine days after he was pulled unconscious from a burning shed attached to a $1.3 million home in New London, Connecticut, back on November 18.” The report stated that the structure had been “barricaded” from the inside, making it difficult for firefighters to rescue Hsieh, who suffered from smoke inhalation. “The cause of the fire remains under investigation,” added Forbes.

“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled his death an accident but a death certificate attached to his family court documents say an official cause is pending further investigation,” concluded The Daily Mail. 

As Hsieh never had children, his parents are likely to inherit the entrepreneur’s estate, according to court proceedings in Las Vegas.

“All Is Vanity”

It is a tragedy that Hsieh did not benefit from the account of a man similarly wealthy—and similarly on the hunt for true happiness.

The second child of King David and Bathsheba, Solomon was born to be king of Israel. He grew up in the palace, married Pharaoh’s daughter, and was given the gift of wisdom straight from God (1 Kings 3:6, 9).

In addition, because of Solomon’s humble heart, God added, “I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days” (v. 13).

By the end of his life, however, Solomon had squandered God’s precious gift and, even worse, had forsaken God Himself—having been seduced into pagan idolatry by his dozens of wives and concubines. And he came to the realization, just as Hsieh had, that all the riches in the world had not brought him happiness or fulfillment.

The book of Ecclesiastes, widely credited to Solomon, is a lament of this so-called “good life.” In the book’s first chapter, we read, “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3).

Solomon though came to a very different end than Hsieh: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14). Out of all his privileged life, the parties he threw, the dignitaries he entertained, the women he loved, Solomon discovered only one purpose: to follow the living God. 

Learn more from Solomon’s mistakes in Pastor Doug Batchelor’s message “The World’s Wisest Fool.

And for a more contemporary story of wealth and privilege, check out Pastor Doug’s testimony, “The Richest Caveman.” Born to socialite parents, Pastor Doug ended up living in a cave, where he discovered life’s true riches!

Note to readers: It appears Tony Hsieh died without making a will. If you don’t have your estate plans secure, or if you’d like to update them, Amazing Facts International offers a free service to help. Visit the website’s Estate and Gift Planning page to get started!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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