Did Tweeting kill surgeon to the stars?

Guy Adams reports on the bizarre crash that claimed the life of Frank Ryan

It was death by social networking. That's what the friends and famous patients of Dr Frank Ryan, a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, have been saying about the high-speed car crash which caused his sudden and untimely death this week, at the age of 50.

Police in Los Angeles sparked a national conversation about the dangers of using mobile telephones at the wheel yesterday, when they revealed that the sometime reality TV star may have been "texting or Twittering" when he drove his Jeep off a cliff next to the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu on Monday afternoon.

Shortly before the accident, at 3.45pm, Dr Ryan had decided to inform his 2,000 Twitter followers that he was climbing up a large sand dune next to the famous road, which runs along the Californian coast from San Diego to San Francisco. "Much harder than it looks!" he said. "Whew!"

Soon afterwards, at 4.10pm, he used Twitter to share a photograph of his border collie Jill "surveying the view" from the top.

But by 4.35pm, Dr Ryan, who had nipped and tucked such famous scraps of artificially enhanced humanity as rock star Gene Simmons and model Janice Dickinson – and was also responsible for piecing boxer Oscar De La Hoya together after his fights – was no more.

Witnesses said his 1995 Jeep had suddenly veered off a picturesque stretch of road a few miles east of Ventura. It rolled 200 ft down cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean, and landed on its roof.

Dr Ryan was trapped in the vehicle with serious head injuries, and pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

Jill, the dog who had been the subject of his now-famous last Tweet, was thrown clear of the Jeep, and survived with what a vet described as minor eye and paw injuries.

The doctor's former celebrity patients quickly aired messages of condolence, in 140 characters or less, via their own accounts on the social networking website.

"I am devastated. He was the most amazing person I have ever known. He was an angel and he changed my life," said Heidi Montag, the former star of MTV's reality drama The Hills. "Dr Frank Ryan changed the world."

Earlier this year, Montag had controversially agreed to be filmed undergoing 10 simultaneous cosmetic procedures in Dr Ryan's Beverly Hills surgery, including liposuction, fat grafts, chin reduction and a second boob job.

"She came to me with a game plan to look the classic blonde," Dr Ryan had told reporters at the time. "She said there were no sexy, curvaceous, twenty-something bombshells in Hollywood and wanted to achieve the looks of Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson."

Asked about allegations that the surgery was excessive, and amounted to a dangerous PR stunt, he added: "I thought she went a little large on the [breast] implants, but that's the look she wanted... Multiple-procedure surgeries are done in 12 hours. It's been done for years."

He later described Montag's decision to undergo the extensive and painful surgery as a "calculated business move" by someone who was trying to "make it in Hollywood".

Other tributes to Dr Ryan were paid by Gene Simmons, the cosmetically enhanced, 60-year-old lead singer of Kiss, who described him as: "Soft spoken, caring and professional."

A spokesman for Janice Dickinson said she was "deeply anguished" at news of his death.

On Tuesday night, Dickinson had been among a smattering of TV stars who attended a candle-lit vigil for the late surgeon at the scene of the crash.

The mourners included several of the reality TV personalities on whom Dr Ryan had performed surgery on air, along with the Point Break actor Gary Busey.

"I was a patient of Frank's and a good friend," he told reporters. "You know when you meet somebody and you feel like you've known them for a long time? That's how Frank was to me. He had a generous spirit and he reached out and gave no matter what he was doing."

Although he had achieved fame as a poster boy for extreme cosmetic surgery, and was one of an illustrious circle of medics who have turned Beverly Hills into the world capital of their trade, Dr Ryan was also known for his work with the less-glamorous inhabitants of Los Angeles.

His personal charity provided trips to Malibu for disadvantaged children, and also ran a programme through which he had provided free removal of gangland tattoos from thousands of inner-city youths. That was the work which first put him in touch with De La Hoya, one of the local Hispanic community's greatest sporting heroes.

"After any fight in which I was cut or suffered an injury, Dr Ryan was always there for me from the time I left the ring until I was fully healed," the boxer said yesterday.

Dr Ryan's death has highlighted the dangers of sending text messages from behind the wheel. Although the practice was recently banned in California, heavy lobbying from the telecommunications industry means that it remains legal in 20 of America's 50 states.

"We haven't confirmed anything regarding the cause of the collision," California Highway Patrol officer Steve Reid said at a press conference, adding that detectives are "looking into several factors, including texting and Twittering that may have played a role in the accident."