The nature of the pathologic lesion in sudden cardiac ischemic death is in dispute. Among 100 subjects who died of ischemic heart disease in less than six hours, coronary thrombi were found in 74. There was no difference in incidence between those who died in less than 15 minutes, those who died in 15 to 60 minutes, and those who died after one hour. Among 26 cases without an intraluminal thrombus, plaque fissuring was found in 21; thus, in only 5 cases was no acute arterial lesion demonstrated. No intraluminal thrombi were found in age-matched controls. Forty-eight of the 74 thrombi were found at sites of preexisting high-grade stenosis; 14 were found at points of previous stenosis of less than 50 per cent of the diameter of the lumen. Forty-seven per cent of the thrombi were found in the right coronary artery. Only 30 per cent were found in the left anterior descending coronary artery. The pathologic process in sudden ischemic death involves a rapidly evolving coronary-artery lesion in which plaque fissuring and resultant thrombus formation are present. These findings have implications for the prevention of sudden cardiac death by antithrombotic therapy.