BOSTON, July 6 -- A California mother has filed a wrongful death suit against the Boston Ballet and its artistic director, alleging the their insistence that Heidi Guenther lose weight contributed to the death of the 22-year-old dancer.
The Boston Globe reported Thursday that Guenther's mother, Patricia Harrington of San Francisco, filed the suit in Suffolk Superior Court just as the statute of limitations was about to expire.
Guenther, who was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 93 pounds, died suddenly on summer break in California on June 30, 1997. A coroner ruled death was due to natural causes caused by a ventricular arrhythmia, but did not link the death to Guenther's apparent eating disorder, anorexia nervosa.
The suit, however, alleges the ballet and artistic director Anna-Marie Holmes engaged in "reckless and grossly negligent" conduct for "repeatedly admonishing" the dancer to lose weight.
The suit claims the defendants knew or should have known that Guenther suffered from the eating disorder that is characterized by skipping meals, purging and ingesting laxatives in an attempt to lose weight.
Guenther, according to the suit, believed that her advancement as a member of the ballet was "driven by being thin," and that Holmes had informed her she would notbe advanced until she lost weight.
The lawsuit alleges that the continued pressure on the dancer to shed pounds worsened her anorexia nervosa and ultimately resulted in the fatal irregular heartbeat.
John Michael Kennedy, a spokesman for the ballet, declined to comment on the suit, as did Holmes.
Holmes previously, however, had told the Globe that she had advised Guenther to lose weight because: "She was looking a little pudgy -- her boobs, her hips, her thighs. You see a girl on stage, her butt is going up and down, it's not attractive. It's a visual art. Because it's a visual art, I can advise what looks good."
Holmes also had told Guenther that the ballet could help her find a nutritionist, the Globe said. The newspaper said Holmes and other staff members of the ballet had told Guenther in January 1997 to be "careful not to get too thin. We are concerned and hope you are eating well."
Harrington said she filed the suit to protect the statute of limitations, "and now I have to decide what to do."NEWLN: