We examined femoral head bone from 50 cadavers and from 21 patients who had suffered pathologic fracture of the femoral neck. We used a histochemical technique for lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activity to demonstrate osteocyte viability. The femoral heads were removed within 36 hours of death or fracture, as LDH activity persists in the cytoplasm of viable cells for this time at 37° after interruption of the blood supply. In the controls, there was an age-related reduction in mean osteocyte viability, from 88±7% (mean±SD) at age 10-29 years to 58±12% at age 70-89 years. In the hip fracture patients, mean osteocyte viability was 58±21% but there was much variability in both osteocyte viability and bone mass. In 5 fracture patients, there was extensive osteocyte death, suggesting that most of the femoral head bone was nonviable; these patients had little microfracture callus. Others had predominantly viable bone which was usually osteoporotic, and their bone frequently showed microfracture callus. Osteomalacia was not seen in any patient. It is suggested that bone death, in addition to osteoporosis, may sometimes contribute to hip fracture in the elderly.