John Taylor Skilling, a 20-year-old communications major at Chapman College in Orange, Calif., and the son of imprisoned ex-Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling, was found dead from what police say was a drug overdose.
Paramedics broke into his apartment after friends were concerned and found Skilling in the bedroom with a bottle of prescription drugs by his bed.
"They were supposed to meet him for dinner and he didn't show up and they knew he was despondent over a recent break-up with a girlfriend," Santa Ana Police Corporal Anthony Bertagna told Reuters. "They looked in the window and they could see him lying on the bed."
"We don't know yet if it's a possible accidental overdose or suicide," he said.
John Taylor Skilling, or JT as he was called, was 15 when his father was sentenced to a 24 years in a federal prison in Englewood, Colo.
His lawyers reported that the older Skilling was " heartbroken and distraught and devastated" by the tragedy.
Friends told ABC News that the younger Skilling had not seemed depressed and were adamant that people not equate the death with Skilling's emotional state over his father.
"They had a very strong relationship," said one close Texas friend, who asked to remain anonymous. "He loved his Dad so much, and through everything that has happened over the years, he stuck by his Dad's side. That surprised a lot of people."
"He was not at all a depressive person," said the friend. "Honestly, I don't know what the drugs were prescribed for. That's something we will find out later. I just think it was an accident. This is the last kid who would take his own life."
An autopsy showed no foul play and there was no suicide note, according to police. It will be four to six weeks until toxicology tests are completed.
Skilling's death echoed that of Mark Madoff,, the son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff. The 46-year-old killed himself last December possibly over the disgrace of his father's conviction on charges of running an investment Ponzi scheme.
In his case, say friends, the father of four had been "struggling" emotionally.
Madoff's suicide coincided with the second anniversary of his father's crimes against investors and a flurry of multi-billion-dollar civil suits.
Psychologists say that the sins of a father can have a devastating effect on the development of a younger child and -- though it may not be true in this case -- can eventually lead to depression or suicide.
"I found myself wondering more about how this young man dealt with his own anger toward his much loved father, and what the breakup with and loss of his girlfriend meant to him in terms of loss of support and understanding, given what he must have been carrying," said Michael Diamond, a clinical professor of psychiatry, UCLA.
Skilling's father was convicted of conspiracy, insider trading and securities fraud in 2006. An appeals court in New Orleans is now considering his latest appeal.
Accounting tricks led to the 2001 collapse of Enron, which was one of the leading electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies. An estimated 22,000 jobs were lost, as well as $60 billion in stock and $2 billion in employee pension plans.
"JT was a wonderful young man," Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said in a brief written statement. "Jeff and his family are heartbroken."