A popular former Disney executive was found dead in his home, leaving questions from his family and friends about what happened, as he was young and healthy. He was also the co-owner of a multi-million-dollar self-help enterprise with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. But because he had a mild heart condition, his loved ones speculated that he had died from a heart attack.
But they were wrong, as an autopsy would later reveal, and the truth about their departed loved one was only beginning to show itself.
Success and a Departure From Disney
After more than 17 years of success at Walt Disney Studios, then-president of Worldwide Distribution for The Walt Disney Company, Dave Hollis, announced his departure in early 2018. Hollis said his resignation would be effective in May of that year as he stepped away from Disney to become the CEO of Chic Media, a company his wife, author and motivational speaker Rachel Hollis, established in 2013.
Chic Media operated as a lifestyle content company, and Rachel Hollis also ran a blog focused on topics of wellness, self-help, and the like. She made a name for herself and her company by embracing the good things about being real, and as part of her social media content, she routinely identified with her followers as being just like them.
Under his supervision, Disney Studios saw industry record-breaking success at the global box office, and as such, Hollis’s departure was a loss for The Walt Disney Company. But his wife’s company had taken off so quickly, amassing millions of fans and making millions, and she needed a CEO to help run it. Who better than her own husband?
A Post-Pregnancy Post Skyrockets the Business
Chic Media took off exponentially as Rachel went viral with a post of herself clad in a bikini on the beach, displaying her stretch marks from her pregnancies.
“I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini,” she wrote in the post. “I wear a bikini because I’m proud of this body and every mark on it. Those marks prove that I was blessed enough to carry my babies and that flabby tummy means I worked hard to lose what weight I could. They aren’t scars ladies; they’re stripes and you’ve earned them,” she added. “Flaunt that body with pride!”
The post quickly went viral, amassing more than 470,000 likes at the time she wrote it. Because of the post, Rachel was then interviewed by various media outlets, including NBC’s Today show. In the weeks and months that followed her post and ensuing appearances on television, Rachel Hollis’s social media following exploded.
Three years later, she released her first book titled Girl, Wash Your Face, which focuses on the topic of self-help as Rachel discusses “real issues” and “the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them,” per Amazon‘s description of the book. In less than a year, she had sold more than one million copies of the book, making it a New York Times Best Seller.
In March 2019, Hollis released her second book, Girl, Stop Apologizing, aimed at empowering women to achieve their goals. More books would follow, and shortly thereafter, Dave Hollis began writing books of encouragement and self-help and well.
Together, the couple collaborated on podcasts and presented numerous successful self-help conferences. To say that Chic Media was successful would be an understatement, but at the height of their success, the two decided to call it quits, filing for divorce, which was finalized in 2020. Though they were no longer married, however, they continued to run their company as a joint effort.
The Social Media Spotlight Seems to Take a Toll
But in the years that followed, according to The Wall Street Journal, the empire built by the Hollises began to show signs of wear and tear–though not necessarily as a byproduct of their divorce.
Dave Hollis had created an online persona that depicted him as an involved, engaged, kind and patient father of four, and there’s no evidence to suggest that he wasn’t exactly that. But in the spring of 2021, during a livestream from his backyard, which he had dubbed the “Patio of Peace,” those who logged in to watch Dave and glean from his guidance and positivity saw something else entirely.
By their own admission, many could tell that something about Dave seemed “off.”
In the livestream, he was visibly frustrated and even angry over the fact that his newest book was not selling well. “I bled into this!” he yelled, holding up a copy of the book, titled Built Through Courage, a collection of stories and advice inspired by a quote he had tattooed on his right arm that reads, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”
Moments later, his daughter, Noah, with whom he shared a great relationship that including Daddy time and lots of tea parties, popped into the screen, asking her father if he could make Mickey Mouse pancakes for her.
But instead of a kind response, Dave mostly blew her off, explaining that he was talking to their “internet friends.” But Noah popped into the screen again, and the second time, Dave told his daughter to “get a life,” which was apparently meant as a joke, but it only served to mar the persona that Dave had delivered over the years.
The stream went on for two hours, as the chorus of comments grew sharper: Sign off, his followers urged him. Go have breakfast with your kids—offline. Livestream commentators soon swarmed a Hollis-family Reddit group to castigate Dave, naming the episode “Pancakegate.”
Dave eventually posted an apology. “I don’t recognize the person in the video,” he wrote. Three months later, he logged off of Instagram and checked into rehab, according to friends. “I am feeling completely broken from the pressure of this strange public life,” he wrote in a post.
An Untimely and Unexpected Death
Only one year later, on February 11, 2023, Dave Hollis was gone. He was found dead in his bed at home with his phone on his chest.
Weeks before his death, Dave had endured a brief hospitalization related to a cardiac condition. In their grief–and in desperate need of answers they thought would offer them some semblance of peace–his friends and family understandably speculated that Dave had simply had a heart attack.
But weeks later, they would discover the terrible truth: Dave Hollis had died from an accidental overdose.
According to an autopsy report from the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, Hollis had a “fatal trio of drugs” in his system at the time of his death: cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol. The medical examiner ruled his death an accidental overdose.
Hollis reportedly had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, something he had touched on in podcasts with Rachel Hollis a few times. He also had a medical history of depression, high blood pressure, and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which causes blood vessels that deliver blood to the heart to narrow and harden over time.
In an Instagram post dated May 26, 2021, Hollis wrote the following:
“When I get to the end of my life, and people are talking about my legacy and the mark I’ve left on the world, I hope there’s been so much good in the impact I have after the age of 45 that there isn’t a single mention of what I used to do before I stepped into what I’m here on this planet for.”
Dave Hollis died just three days shy of his 48th birthday. Here’s hoping his followers will remember the good far longer than the not-so-great.
Sadly, according to Erich Schwartzel, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, there existed a “rise and fall of Dave Hollis,” but he points out that Hollis’s story is one that seems to highlight the pressures of the “weirdly intimate world” of influencers on social media. In that world, he says, influencers are the product, and every single thing they do on a daily basis is potential fodder for a commercialized event online.