The former Dixies star, whose biggest hit Little Arrows reached No 1 in 1968, had four times the legal driving limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of his death, Cork Coroner’s Court heard. A verdict of death due to misadventure was recorded.
Mr O’Brien, 66, was found dead in his flat on Allinett’s Lane off Gerald Griffin Street in Cork on April 3 last.
In her deposition, which was read into the record, his home help Carmel Hennessy said she last saw Mr O’Brien in his car outside his flat on April 1.
On April 3, Ms Hennessy said she got no answer when she knocked on the door of the flat at about 1.25pm.
She went home and tried to ring Mr O’Brien’s mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. She went back to his flat at 4.50pm and used a key to open the door to find Mr O’Brien slumped in a chair.
She ran to nearby Watercourse Garda Station and raised the alarm.
Sergeant Miriam Maguire accompanied her back to the house and she said Mr O’Brien was slumped in a chair in the kitchen area, near a table.
Beer cans, a brandy bottle and a glass were on the table and the TV was on.
She said Mr O’Brien’s body was cold and it appeared as if it had been there for some time.
A doctor was called and Mr O’Brien was later pronounced dead .
A postmortem found that Mr O’Brien had an enlarged heart and extensive heart disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.
Traces of two sedatives were also found but were within therapeutic ranges.
There was 319 milligrams of alcohol per centilitre of blood (mg/c) — 355 mg/c is considered a fatal level of alcohol in a non-habitual drinker.
The cause of death was acute cardiac failure due to an enlarged heart in association with acute alcohol intoxication, assistant State pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster said.
Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane told Mr O’Brien’s ex-wife Marie Curtin that the combination of drinks and his bad heart triggered his death.
“This is of course a terrible personal tragedy and loss for you, but also for the public who held him in high affection,” she said.
Mr O’Brien is survived by his children, Brendan, Conor, Trish, Aideen and Sinead, who all live in Toronto.
They were unable to attend the inquest but have been in regular contact with the coroner’s office.
Mr O’Brien, a singer and rhythm guitarist, joined the Dixies in 1961 after standing in for a tour. The band reached the charts for the first time in 1963 with Christmas Time.
Mr O’Brien left the band in 1972 to form Stage Two, enjoying some success before he was electrocuted on stage in 1974, which forced him to stop performing for some years.
He performed in Cork Opera just a few weeks before his death.