When paramedics were called to Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977, two different people told the responding medics that they believed Elvis Presley had overdosed. Though no one in the room disputed the idea, it seemed to cause "a kind of funny stir in the room," one of the medics recalls in Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, a new book excerpted on Salon. As the ambulance prepared to speed away, Presley's physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, arrived on the scene and jumped into the back. He yelled at a barely recognizable Presley, whose skin was dark blue from the shoulders up, "Breathe, Elvis ... come on, breathe for me." He instructed paramedics to head to Baptist Memorial Hospital, 7 miles away, rather than to the closest emergency room, which was blocks away. And there, a stunning cover-up took place, author Joel Williamson says.
In 1977, Nichopoulos had written prescriptions for Presley for at least 8,805 "pills, tablets, vials, and injectables"; dating back to 1975, the number reached 19,012. On the morning Elvis died, Nichopoulos prescribed six doses of Dilaudid and called it into Baptist's all-night pharmacy, where one of Presley's bodyguards picked the pills up, delivered them to Elvis, and watched as he took them. Over the years, Nichopoulos had always checked Presley into Baptist if he was having health troubles, and the "discreet" hospital always concealed the true nature of those illnesses—including those linked to drugs. On this occasion, Williamson writes, the hospital did the same: It was clearly likely Presley had died of a drug overdose, but the medical examiner announced to the press "a conclusion that [the team of doctors] had not reached," Williamson writes. "He said that Elvis had simply died of heart failure." Nichopoulos, who was later charged with overprescribing for other famous patients, then took the podium and declared that Presley was not abusing drugs and was "overall ... a healthy man" days before his death. Click for the full excerpt. (Read more Elvis Presley stories.)