Mark Reynolds Hughes (January 1, 1956 – May 21, 2000) was an American businessman who was the founder, chairman and CEO of Herbalife International Ltd, a legal network marketing business. Hughes was born in California in 1956. Although he had only a ninth-grade education, he made a fortune through Herbalife and helped others do so as well. He was married four times, and died of mixing alcohol and sleeping pills and other medication in his Malibu mansion at 44 years old.
Mark R. Hughes was born in 1956 in Los Angeles County, California to father Stuard Hartman (not "Stuart", per birth certificate) and mother Jo Ann Hughes (d. April 27, 1975). His parents divorced in 1970 and his mother retained custody of Mark. On April 27, 1975, when he was 19 years old, Hughes' mother was found dead in her apartment. According to the autopsy report, several empty vials of prescription drugs were found beside her bed, and her doctor told the coroner she "was known to over ingest her prescription drugs." Toxicological tests showed potentially lethal levels of the painkiller Darvon in her system. At the time, Mark, a troubled 19-year-old with several drug busts, was staying at a drug institute called CEDU in the San Bernardino Mountains.
In February 1980, aged 24, Hughes founded Los Angeles-based Herbalife International. It has since become one of the world's largest distributors of herbal products through multi-level marketing, with sales of about $3.5 billion in 2007 and 2.1 million Independent Distributors. Now in 91 countries and achieving record retail sales of $7.5 billion in 2013 according to company statements.
In the mid-1980s, Hughes was sued by the Food and Drug Administration, the California attorney general's office, and the state Department of Health, over what they said were false health claims about Herbalife products and the various schemes used to market them. Health agencies accused the company of violating labeling standards and using improper sales practices.
Regulators contended that the company was making medicinal claims. Medicines are regulated by the F.D.A., while nutritional supplements are not. Some health experts doubted the efficacy of Herbalife products, saying that in some instances they relied too heavily on laxatives and caffeine.
In March 1985, the California attorney general and the state Department of Health Services charged him and Herbalife with making "untrue or misleading" product claims—primarily involving the caffeine content of some Herbalife products—and operating an "endless chain marketing scheme."
Prompted by complaints alleging that Herbalife product users had suffered illness and death, a U.S. Senate subcommittee called Hughes before a hearing in May. Referring to a panel of nutrition experts who had criticized Herbalife in testimony the previous day, he asked the senators, "If they're such experts in weight loss, why were they so fat?"
During the hearing, Hughes acknowledged that his own formal education stopped at the 9th grade. When asked during the hearing how he could be qualified to challenge leading medical experts, Hughes responded: "I defy anybody to be able to produce results as this company has."
Hughes reached settlements with the regulatory agencies in 1986. To settle his problems with the state, Hughes agreed to pay $850,000. At the time, the California attorney general, John Van De Kamp, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying it was the largest settlement ever attained from a health products company.
In 1994, Mark and Suzan Hughes started the Herbalife Family Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping children. The Herbalife Family Foundation and its sister organization, the International Herbalife Family Foundation, have donated more than $5 million to children's causes worldwide. Created in 1994 by Herbalife Founder Mark Hughes, Herbalife Family Foundation (HFF) creates partnerships with charities to help meet the nutritional needs of children at risk. At the same time, HFF is there to provide funds to organizations assisting victims of natural disasters. HFF is a global non-profit organization working in communities around the world. In 2007 the Herbalife Family Foundation established the HFF Humanitarian Award to recognize Herbalife Independent Distributors who exemplify the foundation’s mission and, through their outstanding involvement and dedication, have made a significant contribution to changing lives though community service. The honoree is announced at the Herbalife Honors event.
Hughes often stated that his mother died of an accidental overdose of prescription diet pills when he was 18, which he claimed was the impetus for the founding of Herbalife. This is disputed by Hughes' father and the coroner's report.
On the night of Saturday, May 20, 2000, Hughes celebrated the 87th birthday of his maternal grandmother, Hazel (known as Mimi). It was a private gathering, with a few family members joining him at his mansion in Malibu for the evening. Out of the public limelight, Hughes drank white wine, smoked a cigar and played his drum set.
Hughes was trying to buy up all outstanding shares of Herbalife and take the company private once more. The stress and long hours had taken a toll on his health; he was recovering from a recurrence of pneumonia. The treatment involved corticosteroids, which made sleeping difficult. His physician prescribed the drug doxepin, a tricyclic antidepressant, for the insomnia.
On May 21, 2000, authorities said that Mark Hughes died of an accidental overdose after mixing alcohol with a "toxic level" of antidepressants. Scott Carrier, of the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, said final autopsy results found that Hughes, 44, had ingested a toxic combination of alcohol and Doxepin, an antidepressant he was taking to help him sleep. His blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.21, more than 2 1/2 times the legal limit for driving.
Before his marriage to LaPier, Hughes was married to Suzan Hughes for 10 years. Suzan is the mother to their only son, Alexander.
Following Mark Hughes' death, his attorney, Conrad Klein, assumed control of all Hughes' ventures including Herbalife, The Herbalife Family Foundation and The Mark Hughes Trust.
In 2006, The Los Angeles Superior Court suggested the potential removal of the Custodian of The Mark Hughes Trust, Jack Reynolds, for the possibility that he may have ceded control of $40,000,000 to Conrad Klein. His son Alex will inherit most of the $400 million estate (as of 2006) when he turns 35.
Mark Reynolds Hughes is buried at Westwood Village Cemetery.
1. La Roche, Julia (12 March 2014). "FTC OPENS INVESTIGATION INTO HERBALIFE — SHARES PLUNGE". Business Insider.
2. McCrum, Dan (12 March 2014). "Herbalife hit by US ‘pyramid scheme’ probe". Financial Times.
3. Vardi, Nathan (12 March 2014). "FTC Launches Herbalife Inquiry, Shares Fall". Forbes.
7. Autopsy on Herbalife founder finds death caused by accidental overdose
8. Judge Fires Custodian of Herbalife Heir's $40 Million.