Updated from 10:57 a.m. EDT

Herbalife International


said Monday that its chairman and chief executive, Mark Reynolds Hughes, died on Sunday in his sleep at his home in Malibu, Calif.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department said the case had been turned over to the Los Angeles Coroner's office, adding that Hughes' death appeared to be the result of natural causes.

Hughes, who was 44, founded Herbalife, a maker of nutritional and weight-loss products, in 1980.

The Los Angeles-based company said that it would continue to operate according to "the spirit and vitality" of Hughes' vision.

In April, Herbalife announced that Hughes had shelved a plan to buy out the company. He had offered to buy Herbalife in September through a company he set up, MH Millennium Acquisition Corp., for $510 million, or $17 a share, but then canceled the deal after failing to arrange financing.

Hughes said at the time that he was making the offer because he was unhappy about the company's sagging stock price. When the bid was made, Herbalife's stock jumped 26%, to about 15. It tumbled after the canceled bid and was trading down 1 1/4, or 13%, at 8 5/8 around midday Monday after hitting a 52-week low of 8 earlier in the day. (Herbalife closed down 1 3/16, or 12%, at 8 11/16.)

A company representative would not comment on Herbalife's current plans, saying only that company executives were "moving forward with their current strategy."

The company's Internet homepage said Hughes decided to found Herbalife after his mother's death from an accidental overdose of prescription diet pills when he was 18.