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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone October 24, 2022

Bodybuilder Doug Brignole died from a COVID-19 infection, not the vaccine, coroner finds

If Your Time is short

  • Bodybuilder Doug Brignole posted on Facebook in April 2021 about getting vaccinated against COVID-19, urging skeptics to use him as an example of the vaccine’s safety.

  • Brignole died Oct. 13 at age 62.

  • The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office confirmed Oct. 24 that Brignole died of a COVID-19 infection. It listed atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease as a "significant condition" that contributed to, but didn’t cause, his death.

When bodybuilder and fitness expert Doug Brignole got vaccinated against COVID-19, he shared it on social media and urged his followers to join him.

"We're all in this together, so let's do our share to beat it," Brignole wrote in an April 4, 2021, Facebook post. He added in a comment on his post: "I have enough confidence in the vaccine, based on my research, to get it done. Those of you who think the vaccine kills people can use me as a test. If I die, you were right." 

Eighteen months later, Brignole died Oct. 13 at age 62. Now that comment is being used by some social media users to speculate without evidence that he died as a result of the vaccine.

"By your own statement we were right and sadly, you were wrong," read an Oct. 17 Instagram post. "And it cost you your life."

We found numerous social media posts sharing Brignole’s comment and news of his passing to attempt to connect the two. The cause of death wasn’t immediately known when people made these initial posts that suggested, without evidence, that the vaccine was at fault.

A medical examiner has since found that Brignole died from a COVID-19 infection, not from the vaccine.

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Before he died, Brignole, a two-time American Athletic Union Mr. Universe winner, was training to guest pose at an Oct. 22 Amateur Athletic Union event in Las Vegas.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s report listed Brignole’s cause of death as a COVID-19 infection and named atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease a significant condition. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries caused by cholesterol. It contributed to Brignole’s death, but wasn’t an underlying cause, said Sarah Ardalani, a spokesperson for the medical examiner-coroner.

Featured Fact-check

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines breakthrough infections as when someone with a primary series of vaccines only or with an added booster shot gets infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Such infections were rare in COVID-19’s early days, but have become increasingly common as the virus has mutated.

According to CDC data, people who are vaccinated have a much greater chance of surviving a COVID-19 infection than those who are not vaccinated.

Through Aug. 28, people 6 months or older who have received at least a primary series of vaccines have a death rate of 0.25 per 100,000 people. Unvaccinated Americans had a 1.51 death rate, meaning they were more than six times more likely to die, the CDC said. Those in Brignole’s age group who received the primary series of vaccines — ages 50 to 64 — had a death rate of 0.14 per 100,000 people.

It’s not clear whether Brignole had received any booster shots since his initial vaccination in April 2021. We could find no social media posts from him about the subject since then. A friend started a GoFundMe to help cover his funeral expenses; it mentioned nothing about vaccines or what led to his passing.

Martin Drake, the Amateur Athletic Union strength sports national chair, said he couldn't comment on Brignole's health specifically, but called the idea that people are dying from vaccines "silly conspiracy theory concepts (that) are not only patently ridiculous, but are an insult to somebody who has suffered a loss."

A recent study of more than 100,000 vaccinated veterans showed that the risk of getting a severe COVID-19 infection after being vaccinated increases with age. "Increasing age was most strongly associated with severe disease, with risk increasing steadily among patients older than 50 years," the study’s authors wrote.

Our ruling

An Instagram post linked the death of a well-known bodybuilder to the COVID-19 vaccine.

A coroner’s report listed his cause of death as a COVID-19 infection. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, Oct. 17, 2022

Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Douglas Brignole, accessed Oct. 24, 2022

Doug Brignole, Facebook post, April 4, 2021 (archived here)

Email exchange with Sarah Ardalani, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Oct. 24, 2022

Email exchange with Martin Drake, the AAU strength sports national chair, Oct. 17, 2022

Study, "Factors Associated With Severe COVID-19 Among Vaccinated Adults Treated in US Veterans Affairs Hospitals," Oct. 20, 2022

Pharmacy Times, "Risk of Developing Severe Breakthrough Infection From COVID-19 May Increase Over 50 Years of Age," Oct. 21, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Rates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by Vaccination Status," accessed Oct. 24, 2022

WebMD, "Atherosclerosis," Nov. 1, 2021

Fitness Volt, "Bodybuilding Icon Doug Brignole Passes Away At 63," Oct. 14, 2022

YouTube, "Doug Bringnole Path to Mr. Universe V5

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Bodybuilder Doug Brignole died from a COVID-19 infection, not the vaccine, coroner finds

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