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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kent Taylor, founder and CEO of Louisville-based Texas Roadhouse, took his own life Thursday after struggling with the debilitating repercussions of COVID-19, his family said.
“After a battle with post-COVID related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week,” the family said in a company-issued statement Friday. “Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.
“But in true Kent fashion, he always found a silver lining to help others. Most recently, he committed to fund a clinical study to help members of the military who also suffer with tinnitus.”
Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears that others usually can’t hear, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also manifest as buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing or humming.
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Oldham County Coroner David Pendleton said Friday Kentucky State Police were investigating, although he confirmed no foul play was suspected.
“It’s just a circumstance that we have to follow through,” he said.
State police were requested to conduct the death investigation, Sudduth said.
Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. said Friday he and other friends of Taylor were shocked by his death. Brown, the first investor in Texas Roadhouse, said Taylor seemed in good spirits when he spoke to him about a month ago.
Taylor founded the casual dining restaurant in 1993 and held various positions in the company, including most recently board chairman and CEO, according to a company statement.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kent Taylor,” Greg Moore, Lead Director, said on behalf of the Board of Directors. “He founded Texas Roadhouse and dedicated himself to building it into a legendary experience for ‘Roadies’ and restaurant guests alike.”
As restaurants faced restrictions and other pandemic-related challenges last year, Taylor gave up his own base salary and incentive bonus from March 18, 2020, through Jan. 7, 2021.
“This selfless act was no surprise to anyone who knew Kent and his strong belief in servant leadership,” Moore said in Thursday’s statement. “He was without a doubt, a people-first leader. His entrepreneurial spirit will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported and the lives he touched.”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released a statement on social media following the company’s announcement Thursday evening.
“Louisville lost a much loved and one-of-a-kind citizen with Kent Taylor’s passing today,” Fischer wrote in a tweet. “Kent’s kind and generous spirit was his constant driving force whether it was quietly helping a friend or building one of America’s great companies in @texasroadhouse.
“He was a maverick entrepreneur who embodied the values of never giving up and putting others first. My deepest condolences to Kent’s family and many, many friends.”
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell released a statement Friday morning mourning the loss of Taylor. Texas Roadhouse’s founder “didn’t fit the mold of a big-time CEO” with his generous lifestyle and commitment to supporting Louisville, McConnell said, and he’d shown “extraordinary leadership” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“From the cooks to the executives, Kent deeply cared about his team,” McConnell said. “When the pandemic threw everything into uncertainty last year, there was no question what Kent would do. Like always, he put his people first. He dug deep into his own pockets and covered healthcare and bonuses for thousands all while keeping his stores open to make sure workers got paychecks when they needed them most.”
The company did not release details about funeral arrangements.
“We are saddened by the decision Kent felt he needed to make and want to emphasize more than ever the importance of reaching out for help if you or someone you love is suffering,” the company said in its statement.
Reach Emma Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @emmacaustin.
Help for suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 for help.