The purpose of the study was to determine the relationship of preoperative health status and time to surgery to mortality and late functional outcome in hip fracture patients. The records of 168 consecutive patients who had operations for 171 intertrochanteric or femoral neck fractures were reviewed retrospectively. Preoperative health status was assessed by the American Society of Anesthetists (ASA) classification. Postoperative outcome was determined by mortality and ambulatory status. The follow-up period for survivors averaged 33 months. The overall mortality was 14% at 1 year, which rose to 26% at 2 years, and 33% at 3 years. The 3-year mortality was significantly less for ASA I and II patients (23%) than for ASA III, IV, and V patients (39%). There was also a significant difference in mortality between patients having surgery within 24 hours of admission (20%) and those having surgery beyond 24 hours of admission (50%). Even when only the healthy subgroup of ASA I and II patients were considered, the relative risk of death was 4.5 times greater if surgery occurred after 24 hours from admission. These data support the concept that hip fracture patients are not a homogeneous group with respect to mortality and that the ASA classification is a good predictor of mortality. Patients who had surgery within 24 hours of admission had a significantly lower mortality rate than did patients having surgery beyond 24 hours of admission, regardless of their preoperative ASA classification.