Eight families were identified in which premature cardiac death due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurred with unusual frequency. A total of 69 first degree relatives in the eight families were studied; 41 relatives had evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and 31 (75 per cent) died of their heart disease. Eighteen of these 31 patients were less than 25 years of age at the time of death. Death was sudden and unexpected in 23 of the 31 patients; in 15 of these 23 patients sudden death was the initial manifestation of cardiac disease. The remaining eight patients (seven were from two families) died after a chronic cardiac illness characterized by congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation or thromboembolic events. Hence, premature cardiac death occurs frequently in certain families with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Such deaths are usually sudden, often occur in previously asymptomatic subjects and are common in children and young adults. These findings suggest that some families may manifest an unusually virulent expression of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Although this study cannot establish the precise prevalence with which "malignant" hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs, such families appear to be uncommon.