Widow of Del Shannon Alleges Drug Led to His Suicide, Sues Eli Lilly & Co. — (Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles Times

January 29, 1991|

JOHN RIVERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The widow of the late rock singer Del Shannon has filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Eli Lilly & Co., maker of the anti-depressant drug Prozac, alleging that it caused him to commit suicide at his Santa Clarita home last year.

LeAnne Westover alleges in the suit that the Indianapolis-based firm did not properly test the drug prior to marketing it and failed to warn doctors of its possible side effects. The suit, filed Friday, seeks punitive damages, which under California law cannot be specified.

Shannon, whose actual name was Charles Westover, shot himself in the head Feb. 8 with a .22-caliber rifle.

“We are charging Eli Lilly with the same degree of culpability as if it was Eli Lilly’s finger around the trigger of the weapon that shot the bullet that ultimately took Del Shannon’s life,” said Leonard L. Finz, a New York-based attorney representing Westover. Finz said his firm is participating in more than 50 lawsuits against Lilly based on Prozac’s alleged harmful effects.

Lilly spokesman Edward West said testing of the drug had been adequate, involving more than 25,000 people. Prozac’s “safety and effectiveness in the treatment of depression has been well established” by its use on more than 3 million people, he said.

Finz said Shannon had suffered from mild bouts of depression prior to consulting a doctor who prescribed Prozac in January, 1990. He had been taking the drug for about two weeks prior to his death.

“It was immediately detected by his wife that he seemed strange,” Finz said. He would stare off in space for hours, and was very nervous and unable to sleep, she said.

The singer, who had such hits as “Runaway,” “Keep Searchin (We’ll Follow the Sun)” and “Do You Want to Dance,” was 55 when he died. Most of his success came in the early ’60s. In later years, he fell on hard times, although he remained in the music business as a producer and continued to enjoy popularity in England as a performer.