Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of when Elvis Presley passed away, shortly followed by indications that the cause of death was a heart attack. Since then, conspiracy theories have raged about what really went down in that Graceland bathroom, with some claiming that the King is still alive.
The medics who responded to the call to Graceland that morning in 1977 tell a different story. They claim that Elvis was found collapsed in front of the toilet with his pants around his ankles. One of the medics, Ulysses Jones, later described Presley’s body to a reporter.
“From his shoulders up, his skin was dark blue. Around his neck, which seemed fat and bloated, was a very large gold medallion. His sideburns were gray.”
Several people were already on scene when the medics arrived, and it wasn’t long before one of them claimed that Elvis’ cause of death might have been an overdose. According to a Salon piece about the day Presley passed away, employees were strictly forbidden from discussing the King’s drug use. That was, of course, despite the fact that it was common knowledge among those who knew him by that time.
The bulk of his prescriptions came from Dr. Nichopoulos, who directed heavy doses of Dilaudid, Quaalude, Percodan, Demerol, and cocaine hydrochloride to Elvis up until the morning before his death. Just in 1977, he had already signed off on more than 8,000 doses of various drugs for Presley.
Still, he was hardly the only means the prominent musician had to secure his pick-me-ups: His 1981 court defense for over-prescription centered on the argument that he was helping Elvis by, at least, supplying him with a doctor who, supposedly, knew his limits. Though he was not initially convicted for Presley’s death, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners revoked his license in 1993, reported Houston Press.
Before his cause of death could be confirmed, Elvis was taken to the Baptist Memorial Hospital where paramedics attempted to revive him as if he was still alive. As they had quietly treated Presley for a host of illnesses likely associated with his drug use, they knew that there was a potential public relations disaster on their hands.
An autopsy supposedly revealed that heart failure, stroke, cancer, or lung disease weren’t responsible for Elvis’ death, but rather the slow toll of years of drug abuse. Still, at a later press conference, a heart attack was the conclusion proposed by one of the doctors working on the case: more specifically, cardiac arrhythmia due to undetermined heartbeat. Much to the delight of Dr. Nichopoulos, drugs seemed to have been strategically pushed to the side as a potential cause of death, wrote Presley biographer Joel Williamson.
These questionable circumstances have led many to many conspiracy theories, some of which insinuate that Elvis never died and is still alive, and others that point to foul play. Presley’s true cause of death is still mysterious, as the autopsy and toxicity reports will not be released until 2027 at the request of the deceased’s father, reported Huffington Post. One doctor even argues that the singer actually died from complications related to untreated head trauma.
Information shared by the other doctors familiar with the autopsy, as well as the later conviction of Dr. Nichopoulos, do lend credence to the idea that drugs were responsible for Elvis’ death, but some critics offer yet another theory: Presley was ushered into the witness protection program after being discovered as an FBI mole in a local racketeering scheme.
Author of Is Elvis Alive? Gail Brewer-Giorgio claims that she came to this conclusion after searching through FBI documents she claims show a close relationship between the government agency and Presley. Her book has fomented other conspiracy theories over the years, including many who claim that his surviving family often slip up about communicating with the deceased musician after 1977.
Though it may still stir up pain for Elvis Presley’s surviving loved ones, the controversy over his true cause of death — or lack thereof — means that the King is still alive in one way or another, even if only through his music and continued speculation about his life and death.
[Featured Image by Evening Standard/Getty Images]