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Coroner to determine how Thomas Kinkade died

 

The Santa Clara County coroner's office is scheduled to perform an autopsy on painter Thomas Kinkade, who died unexpectedly at the age of 54.

His family attributed his death to natural causes, though no exact cause of death has been determined. Kinkade died Friday at his home in Monte Sereno, an affluent enclave near Los Gatos in the Bay Area.

"We are shocked and saddened by his death," his wife, Nanette Kinkade, said in a statement.

PHOTOS: The work of Thomas Kinkade

The San Jose Mercury News said local police have declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Kinkade's death, referring calls to the coroner's office.

Millions of his paintings and prints hang in homes around the world, a popularity that translated to more than $50 million in earnings for the artist from 1997 to 2005 alone. Lauded for his generosity, he once gave an Anaheim widow $25,000 worth of his art to replace what she'd lost in a fire.

"He lived life to the fullest," said Ken Raasch, his former business partner who co-founded Kinkade's company more than 20 years ago. "He was a very eclectic character, an amazing artist who was not a stereotypical man in any sense. He created his own mold, I'd say, and I think we were all blessed because of that."

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Kinkade's fame and fortune, however, were complicated by personal and business struggles.

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.

And for more than a year, Kinkade had been separated from his wife, Nanette, with whom he had four daughters.

"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."

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-- Kim Christensen and Shelby Grad

 
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