HE BECAME EVEN MORE OF A MYSTERY in death than he had been in life. Elvis Aron Presley went to his grave at age 42 without ever laying all his cards on the table. And all of his family — the distinction between blood relatives and employees long ago having become blurred — continued, in the midst of their sorrow, to keep their cards close to their chests.
The day before he was to go on tour, the week that the controversial book Elvis What Happened?, which purported to detail his private life, appeared the month that he again had a record on the charts, Elvis dropped dead in his Graceland mansion and instantly passed from elusive legend to myth. The city of Memphis, which also gave the world Holiday Inns, once again — if only for 48 hours or so — became the spiritual headquarters of rock & roll.
The city came to resemble a gypsy camp as tens of thousands of followers dropped whatever they were doing wherever they were and made their way to where they knew they had to be. No matter that there was no room in the inn (the city’s 9000 motel rooms were already overflowing with 16,000 conventioning Shriners), no matter that only a couple of thousand out of 75,000 got to view the regal body lying in state, no matter that only 200 or so close friends attended the services. It was enough, they said, to be in the same town with the King when he was laid away.
Even in the middle of the almost hysterical adulation, though, persisted the nagging reports and speculations and rumors about the cause of death. The tentative ruling was heart failure, but the autopsy was expected to continue for at least a week.
Elvis’ last week alive was apparently a happy one. His nine-year-old daughter, Lisa Marie (after whom he named his private Convair 880 jet), was visiting Graceland for two weeks. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother, Elvis’ former wife, Priscilla Beaulieu. On August 7th, Elvis had rented Libertyland, a local amusement park, from midnight till dawn. His daughter and his companion, a local woman named Ginger Alden, and about 15 friends spent the night riding Casey’s Cannonball. the Little Dipper, the Fender Bender and the parks’ 11 other rides.
Otherwise, said friends, Elvis was swimming daily in the pool at Graceland, playing racquet ball nightly and going over the music for his 11-day tour, which was to culminate with two shows at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis August 27th and 28th. He was, friends said, extremely overweight and though he had seen Elvis What Happened?, written by three of his former bodyguards, he did not seem overly bothered by anything. On Monday, August 15th, Elvis arose late, as was his custom. (The Memphis Commercial Appeal‘s editorial on his passing noted that “if he kept late hours, he also kept the peace.”) After nightfall, he took one of his Stutz-Bearcats out for a drive through Memphis. After returning to Graceland he went to his racquet ball court and played until about six a.m. Tuesday, August 16th.
At 2:33 p.m. the call came to the Memphis Fire Department’s Engine House No. 29 at 2147 Elvis Presley Boulevard. The call, from Elvis’ road manager Joe Esposito. said that someone was having trouble breathing at Graceland. That is not an unusual complaint, since fans often faint outside the Presley mansion. Charlie Crosby and Ulysses S. Jones Jr. jumped into Unit No. 6, a “Modular Rev Ambulance” — an orange and white boxlike structure affixed to a GMC chassis — turned on the siren and headed south. At 3746 Elvis Presley Boulevard (no one here calls it just Presley or just Elvis) the ambulance was led up the winding driveway of Graceland by a waiting car.
Crosby and Jones were brought upstairs, where Presley was lying on the floor of his bathroom. His personal doctor, George Nichopoulos, was administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
They put Elvis, in his blue pajamas, into Unit No. 6 and sped north on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Crosby was driving and Jones was helping with revival attempts in the back. A number of Elvis’ employees followed. They turned left on Union and raced to Baptist Memorial Hospital’s emergency room entrance, just four-tenths of a mile east of the original Sun Records studio at 706 Union — now a vacant and padlocked yellow, one-story building — where Elvis first recorded. “Breathe, Presley, breathe!” the Commercial Appeal quoted his doctor as saying on the way to the hospital. It was more than too late. Presley’s body was already blue.
Even so, at 2:56 p.m. he was rushed into the emergency room, which was then closed to all other cases. A “Harvey Team,” which is trained in all means of reviving a dying person, worked on him without success. Dr. Nichopoulos finally pronounced Elvis Presley dead at 3:30 p.m.
His body, which was becoming bloated, was moved to the hospital morgue on the second floor. The morgue was sealed off by tight security and the preliminary autopsy began, with every important doctor in the hospital present. Also called in was Dr. Jerry Francisco, the Shelby County medical examiner. Their preliminary ruling was cardiac arrhythmia and hardening of the arteries.
“Elvis had the arteries of an 80-year-old man,” a Baptist Hospital employee said. “His body was just worn out. His arteries and veins were terribly corroded.