As the Santa Clara County Coroner’s office tries to determine how painter Thomas Kinkade died, a close friend said he passed peacefully in his sleep.
Kinkade died unexpectedly Friday at 54. The coroner performed an autopsy Monday, but it’s unknown when the office will issue a final cause of death.
Amy Pinto, identified by the San Jose Mercury News as Kinkade’s girlfriend, was at his home in Monte Sereno, an affluent enclave near Los Gatos in the Bay Area, and said that the painter died in his sleep.
Cindy Lemus, who works in administrative support for the coroner’s office, said medical exams are scheduled for everyone who died over the weekend in Santa Clara County.
“All of the examinations from the weekend will take place this morning,” she said.
She said the coroner’s office has a policy of not releasing the cause of death to anyone but the next of kin, which would seem to contradict California law that states all coroner’s reports are public record.
Kinkade’s family attributed his death to natural causes, though the exact cause of death will be determined by the coroner.
“We are shocked and saddened by his death,” his wife, Nanette Kinkade, whom he had been separated from for over a year, said in a statement.
In the last decade he had been locked in legal battles with former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners, some of whom accused him in lawsuits of trading heavily on his Christian beliefs even as he drove them into financial ruin.
He had battled alcohol abuse, former business associates said in court records and interviews, and in 2010 his mug shot went viral after his arrest on a drunk driving charge to which he later pleaded no contest.
“The Thomas Kinkade story and legacy is a story of triumph and tragedy, which I believe that everyone can gain from paying attention to,” said Terry Sheppard, a former Kinkade friend and company vice president who parted ways with the painter in 2003.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by their daughters, Merritt, Chandler, Winsor and Everett, and a brother, Pat, who worked for Kinkade’s company.
On Saturday, Thomas Kinkade Co. officials sent a message to distributors that the business will continue, saying that “his art and powerful message of inspiration will live on.”