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Posted: Wednesday August 22, 2012 7:49PM ; Updated: Wednesday August 22, 2012 11:52PM

Wife: Tapia died from heart problems

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Johnny Tapia
Johnny Tapia was found dead May 27 at his home in Albuquerque, N.M. An autopsy report said he died as a result of complications from hypertensive heart disease.
Steve Marcus/Reuters

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Former boxing champion Johnny Tapia died from heart disease and high blood pressure and not from a drug overdose, his widow said Wednesday.

Speaking during a press conference at the late boxer's Albuquerque gym, Teresa Tapia said that an autopsy report showed that the death was accidental and was a result of heart problems and the onset of Hepatitis C, likely from the many tattoos the boxer had.

Teresa Tapia shared the newly released autopsy report with reporters at a press conference and said she was doing it to dispel the myth that her husband, who had struggled with cocaine abuse in the past, died in May after using illegal drugs.

"This (report) shows that he did not die of a drug overdose,'' Teresa Tapia said. "It doesn't make the pain go away, but I felt I needed to say that.''

Investigators found one Hydrocodone tablet, a painkiller, on the floor beside his body. They said there were no indications of an overdose or alcohol use, but that the 45-year-old former fighter likely developed medical complications from past illegal drug use.

Teresa Tapia said her husband was taking medication for his bipolar disorder and for his high blood pressure.

Sam Kassicieh, the boxer's former personal physician and friend, said after reading the report he believe that Johnny Tapia's use of illegal drugs probably played a role in his death, but that it was not the sole reason. Ask if there was anything Johnny Tapia could have done to prevent his death, Kassicieh said no.

"His blood pressure was under control,'' said Kassicieh, who saw Johnny Tapia four days before his death. "Nothing could have been done.''

Johnny Tapia won several championships in three weight classes, winning the WBA bantamweight title, the IBF and WBO junior bantamweight titles and the IBF featherweight belt.

But his life was also marked by tragedy. He was orphaned at 8, his mother stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver and left to die.

During his professional career, he was banned from boxing for 3 1/2 years in the early `90s because of his cocaine addiction.

And in 2007, he was hospitalized after an apparent cocaine overdose.

Teresa Tapia said she believed that not only had his past drug abuse caught up to him but also the pressures of his hard life. "I think his heart was so big, it just stopped,'' she said.

She said a documentary and a feature film about Johnny Tapia's life are in the works.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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