NEWARK, N.J. -- The death of ballet star Patrick Bissell, found in his New Jersey apartment, had all the signs of a drug overdose, a prosecutor said, and his family also suspected cocaine was the cause.
Bissell's family said the 30-year-old dancer, a principal performer with the American Ballet Theatre for nearly 10 years, couldn't handle the pressures of the highly competitive New York dance world.
Hudson County Prosecutor Paul M. DePascale cited preliminary results of an autopsy in an interview that appeared in yesterday's editions of The Star-Ledger of Newark. However, a final determination won't be made for several weeks, DePascale said.
Bissell's fiance'e found his body Tuesday morning in the Hoboken apartment where they had recently moved from New York.
"He's just a small-town kid," said his older brother, Donald Bissell of Stuart, Fla. "He never did get along with New York City."
Patricia Bissell, Patrick's mother, said her son had fallen prey to "an epidemic in the dance world," according to Wednesday's editions of the New York Post. "Of course Patrick's death was a drug overdose -- he never knew what hit him," his mother told the Post. "He told me he'd been shooting cocaine into his veins since he was 14."
She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
"It's a kind of a waste, you know," said William Bissell, Patrick Bissell's twin brother who lives in the family's Fort Smith, Ark., home. "Wally was fine as a brother but all the pressure got to him in ballet."
"We suspected he might have died of a cocaine overdose," William said. "We believe that when he kicked the habit, the level he would normally take was probably an (overdose) level."
Patrick Bissell had gone to the Betty Ford Clinic in California earlier this year and left the center "dried out" in August, said William Bissell. Bissell was dismissed from the company in 1980 and 1981 because he was chronically late and missed rehearsals. He returned in 1982.
Before Bissell's treatment this summer, his problem was so serious that he was required to take weekly urine tests for two years, Robert Pontarelli, a spokesman for the American Ballet Theatre, told Newsday. Pontarelli said that during the period, the tests were positive only a "very few" times. Bissell had to pay a fine when they were, and he continued to perform regularly during that time, the spokesman told the newspaper.
In a controversial best seller written by ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, "Dancing on My Grave," she depicted a drug-filled dance world. But Charles Dillingham, executive director of the American Ballet Theatre, said Bissell's drug problem was a "rare exception" in the dance world.