Is 'The Dropout's' Ian Gibbons Based on a Real Person? The Tragic True Story

The Dropout on Hulu stars Dear John's Amanda Seyfried as convicted fraudster and former chief executive officer (CEO), Elizabeth Holmes. Joining Seyfried to tell the story of the rise and fall of Holmes and her health technology company Theranos is The Hobbit's Stephen Fry, who takes on the role of biochemist Ian Gibbons.

As seen in The Dropout, in the early days, Gibbons was one of Holmes' biggest supporters and worked hard to find a way to make the technology at Theranos work accurately and to the scale Holmes was telling patients, doctors, and investors. Newsweek has everything you need to know about Fry's character, Ian Gibbons.

Warning: This article contains spoilers about The Dropout.

Is The Dropout's Ian Gibbons Based On A Real Person?

Yes, Stephen Fry's character Ian Gibbons is based on a real person and sadly, the real Gibbons did die from liver failure after a suicide attempt in May 2013.

Gibbons, a British biochemist and University of Cambridge graduate, had worked for Theranos since 2005, two years after Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes founded the company.

Gibbons was brought on board by Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering at Stanford and Theranos board member Channing Robertson (played by Bill Irwin), who remained on the board of Theranos until 2017.

Before joining Theranos, Gibbons worked on diagnostic and therapeutic products at various technology companies.

Between 2005 and 2010, Gibbons served as Theranos' chief scientist. He was the first experienced scientist to be hired.

Gibbons argued that the results of the Theranos' blood tests should match the benchmark results of competitors' commercial analyzers. However, Theranos' blood tests repeatedly failed to match the benchmark Gibbons believed should be set, leading to frequent clashes and frustrations with Holmes.

Matters were made worse when Holmes told investors the blood-testing device Theranos used, known as the Edison, worked. As chief scientist, Gibbons knew the technology was failing and that Holmes was lying. Nevertheless, Gibbons continued to work for Theranos with hopes of finding a scientific solution to the problem and making Holmes' claims a reality.

In 2010, when Gibbons went to the board of Theranos to discuss the problem of the failing blood-testing device, with Holmes signing multi-million dollar deals with investors, he was fired. However, several colleagues lobbied on his behalf and he was rehired, as a technical consultant.

Three years later, on May 15, 2013, Gibbons was called to testify as a witness in a lawsuit about Theranos technology. His deposition was scheduled to take place two days later on May 17.

Holmes' childhood neighbor Richard Fuisz had filed a patent for a physician-alert mechanism that was embedded in Theranos' testing device, meaning Theranos would have to get a license from Fuisz to use the physician-alert. In response, Holmes and Theranos sued Fuisz.

Fuisz then listed Gibbons as a witness to be deposed to answer questions about Theranos as he was largely credited as a co-inventor alongside Holmes on many of Theranos' patents.

Knowing the technology did not work, Gibbons would be lying under oath if he did not tell the truth about Theranos failing technology but on the other hand, he most definitely risked losing his job as speaking about the company would be breaking his non-disclosure agreement. Additionally, Theranos had been pressuring Gibbons not to attend his deposition meeting on May 17.

The evening before his deposition, on May 16, 2013, Gibbons received a phone call from one of Holmes' assistants. His wife, Rochelle Gibbons, told Vanity Fair that after the call, Gibbons asked "Elizabeth wants to meet with me tomorrow in her office. Do you think she's going to fire me?" to which she replied "Yes."

Sadly, that same evening, Ian Gibbons attempted suicide and was found the following morning by his wife. He was taken to hospital and died on May 23 of liver failure. He was 67-years-old.

ian gibbons the dropout
Stephen Fry as Ian Gibbons in The Dropout. Hulu

Five years after Gibbons' death, Theranos collapsed after it was uncovered the blood testing devices never actually worked. CEO Holmes and Chief Operating Officer Sunny Balwani were charged with nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In January 2022 Holmes was convicted on four counts of defrauding investors—three counts of wire fraud, and one of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison. She is currently awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for September 2022.

Speaking on the podcast, The Dropout, which the Hulu series is based on, Rochelle Gibbons revealed Holmes never offered any condolences in response to her husband's death. Instead, she received an email from a Theranos lawyer requesting the immediate return of a Theranos laptop and any other Theranos equipment and paperwork.

After Holmes' conviction, Gibbons' widow told The Daily Mail: "'Ian would be very happy. He was a very kind, tolerant person but he hated her so much—she was a sociopath, a narcissist, a bully and a liar.

"When he realized she was pushing things on patients that were fraudulent, it destroyed him."

In a separate interview with CBS News, Rochelle Gibbons paid tribute to her late husband.

She said: "For me, he was as near to perfection as a human could be. He was kind. He was honest. He was extremely intelligent."

The Dropout airs Thursdays on Hulu and Disney+.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

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