The Dropout: How Ian Gibbons Died In Real Life (&


Ian Gibbons’ death is a focal point of Hulu’s The Dropout series. Here’s how Ian Gibbons died in real life, and what happened in the aftermath.

Hulu’s limited series The Dropout tells the true story of the fraudulent Silicon Valley biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes and the harmful repercussions of her lies, which include Theranos chief scientist Ian Gibbons’ death. Played by The Hobbit‘s Stephen Fry in The Dropout, Gibbons was a well-respected, accomplished, and Cambridge-educated British biochemist. He became one of the first people hired by the young and hugely ambitious Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes (Amanda Seyfried) in 2005, and continued to work for Holmes until his untimely death in 2013.

As portrayed in The Dropout, Ian Gibbons was a well-liked friend and colleague, apparently known for his kindness, honesty, and geniality. At first, he truly believed that Holmes’ company Theranos could fulfill its promises of changing the world and revolutionizing the health care industry by making it more affordable and accessible. Though he worked diligently for years to make Holmes’ vision (a potentially life-saving diagnostic machine that would only require a pinprick of blood) into a reality, it eventually became clear to Gibbons that Theranos’ tech was not working — and that Holmes was selling it anyway.


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Determined to emulate the success of her idol, Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Holmes was barreling ahead with trials, investors, and funding for Theranos’ blood-testing Edison machine, despite the fact that they were unable to make the product work. As a leading scientist at the company, Gibbons was deeply disturbed by the lies Holmes was peddling. He was especially alarmed when he learned that Holmes was gearing up to implement the device at “Wellness Centers” in a new partnership with Walgreens, knowing that results would be inaccurate, if not completely fabricated using rival technology. Gibbons voiced his concerns to Holmes, but they went unheeded. He was even briefly fired, as shown in The Dropout, only to be brought back a few hours later to keep him from divulging the company’s sensitive information. Between pressure from Holmes and a subpoena from Richard Fuisz (Shameless‘ William H. Macy) that would require him to testify or risk violating his Theranos NDA, Gibbons was thoroughly distraught. Using medication mixed with alcohol, Gibbons attempted suicide on May 16, 2013, dying a week later in the hospital due to liver failure.

Elizabeth Holmes on the phone in The Dropout

Gibbons’ wife, Rochelle, still blames Theranos for his death, having seen the way that the stress of lying and misinformation ate away at her husband for years. When Rochelle called to inform Holmes of Gibbons’ passing, she reached an assistant who promised to inform Elizabeth Holmes; however, the only response Rochelle got from Holmes was a phone call from a Theranos employee demanding that she return any of the company’s property left by her husband (via Vanity Fair). When Rochelle, played by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Kate Burton in The Dropout, spoke to a reporter shortly after Gibbons’ death, the bereaved widow was promptly threatened by Theranos with legal action. In the years since, Rochelle has remained courageously vocal about Theranos and Holmes’ duplicity.

Holmes’ scam was eventually discovered, and she was convicted of four counts of defrauding investors. However, this provides little comfort or restitution for Rochelle Gibbons and the memory of her late husband, Ian. After the conviction, Rochelle told reporters: “I am still a widow. Ian is still dead. I don’t know how that’s justice, but I don’t know how you get justice for that” (via The Daily Mail). As illustrated in The Dropout, Holmes’ ruthless and unethical actions had drastic consequences, which in Ian Gibbons’ case were tragically fatal.

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About The Author Kylie Boersma (40 Articles Published)

Kylie lives her life training for the day that TV-watching becomes an Olympic sport. Should that happen, she plans to win. In the meantime, Kylie lives in LA and has worked on various television productions. She will continue to do so until someone lets her write and produce her own.

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