Michael E. Norris, 41, the blunt, flamboyant and sometimes controversial former sheriff of Alexandria who faced allegations of drug abuse and questions about his personal life, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound May 23 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Ott Cefkin, a spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, said that the death was a suicide and that Norris had left a note saying he was seriously ill and had spent most of his money on medical treatment.
The spokesman quoted Norris's roommate as saying that the former lawman used cocaine and that he had been drinking the night before his death.
He said Norris apparently was distraught over the end of a relationship.
A Republican, Norris was elected Alexandria's sheriff in 1977 and served until 1985. He was credited with modernizing the department, but his last two years in office were plagued by questions concerning drug abuse, his contacts with the gay community, and how a 17-year-old youth came into possession of his service revolver.
Although a grand jury declined to indict Norris on drug charges and had sharp words for members of the news media whose reports had sparked the investigation, Norris was defeated in his bid for a third term by Democrat James H. Dunning, the present sheriff. He moved to Florida and worked for a security company and then as a consultant.
On hearing of his death, Dunning issued a statement saying, "Mike's work to establish a professional and respected agency laid the groundwork for where the office is today. The city has much to be proud of for the work he did."
Norris was born in Portsmouth, Va. He graduated from American University. He became an Alexandria police officer in 1969 and was a sergeant when he won the Republican nomination for sheriff in 1977.
When he was elected, he took charge of a department that had been widely criticized as inefficient and a nest of old-boy personnel practices. Deputy sheriff positions and other jobs were often given out as patronage, and the city's jail, for which the sheriff is responsible, was considered a disgrace by state corrections officals.
In his first term, Norris was lauded for transforming the department into a modern law enforcement agency. Innovations included training programs, hiring practices based on merit, uniforms for deputies and new jail management. In 1981, he was unopposed for a second term.
His troubles began in 1983, when a 17-year-old was arrested with his gun, badge and handcuffs. The sheriff said the youth had access to his home to repair a computer and had taken the items while he was away at a conference.
In 1984, there were allegations that Charles T. Strobel, the city's director of public safety and police chief, had cut short an investigation that implicated Norris as a drug user.
The grand jury exonerated both Strobel and Norris.
But more trouble came later in 1984, when Norris told The Washington Post that he had "a lot of gay friends" and that he went dancing with them at Washington bars.
During the 1985 campaign, it was reported that Norris had received a campaign contribution from a man who did business with the Alexandria jail and that a woman who had been a summer clerk in the sheriff's office was wanted on felony charges in North Carolina.
After the election, the sheriff blamed those controversies for his loss.
"I was called everything except a human being," he said. "What happened in this city in the past year would be far beyond 'The Twilight Zone.' "
Asked to comment about allegations that he was a homosexual, he said, "I'm a free man now, so I don't want to talk about it. No matter what I say about my sex life, it comes across the wrong way. If people knew how boring my life is, they'd yawn."
Norris's marriage to Bonnie Norris ended in divorce.
Survivors include his parents, Arthur and Mary Norris of Belleview, Fla.; a sister, Joy Mykika of Fort Lauderdale; and a brother, James A. Norris of Alexandria.