Death claims Elvis (1977)

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Death claims Elvis


King of rock suffers heart failure at 42

Memphis — Elvis Presley, the gyrating king of rock n’ roll who forever changed the face of music two decades ago when he growled “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” died at his mansion Tuesday of an “erratic heartbeat.”

The 42-year-old singer — “Elvis the pelvis” when he burst upon the world in the mid-1950s — died face down on the floor of a bathroom at his Graceland mansion.

He was found there by his road manager, Joe Esposito, at 2:30 pm, but Shelby County medical examiner Dr Jerry Francisco said Presley may have been dead since 9 am.

Francisco told newsmen after an autopsy that Presley died of “cardiac arrythmia,” which he described as a severely irregular heartbeat. He said it was brought about by “undetermined causes.”

Both Francisco and Dr George Nichopoulos, Presley’s personal physician, said there was “no evidence of any illegal drug use.”

Efforts to revive Presley were abandoned at Baptist Hospital at 3:30 pm.

News of Elvis’ death

Rumors of his death raced from coast to coast. When it was confirmed, the mourning began.

Radio stations throughout the world played the king’s music. Politicians and entertainers eulogized him. Record shops, which in his 22 years of recording sold 400 million Elvis Presley albums, were jammed.

Presley brought rock n’ roll to the world with “Hound Dog,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Teen-agers went into a frenzy and adults, seeing his long shiny hair, sideburns, hooded eyes, and most of all his grinding hips, went into shock.

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He was, as Gov Cliff Finch of his home state of Mississippi said, the “personification of the American Dream.” He rose from poverty to incredible wealth.

But one of his best friends, singer Pat Boone, said he lives as a “haunted man… an exile” afraid to fly, afraid of the massive and frantic demonstrations that greeted his every public appearance right up until the last. He lived in seclusion, appearing only on his concert tours.

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Cause of death

Francisco said at a news conference that “there was severe cardiovascular disease present. He had a history of mild hypertension and some coronary artery disease. These two diseases may be responsible for the cardiac arrythmia. But the precise cause was not determined. Basically it was a natural death.”

“The precise cause of death may never be discovered,” he said.

“There certainly were some drugs being given for the medical condition that was present. There was no evidence of cocaine use.”

Nichopoulos said Presley was “using medicine for his blood pressure, several different kinds, and for the colon problem that he had.”

“I arrived at the mansion about 2:30 pm,” said Nichopoulos, “the time ambulance was leaving his house. I am sure he was dead at that time.”

“He was lying on his face on the floor. The people in the house with him were asleep and were not aware that anything abnormal had transpired.”

He said Presley went to a dentist Monday night “to have work done on several teeth. He came back home and played raquet ball from 4 until 5:30 am and went to bed about 6 am.”

Presley so shocked the nation’s parents with his gyrations when he first appeared on television that the second time he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the camera never showed him below the belt.

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Presley had been fighting a weight problem and various ailments — primarily described as fatigue from his intense tour schedules — for several years. He was in Baptist Hospital as late as April, suffering from intestinal flu and fatigue.

His minions — and his generosity with them — were legend. On at least several occasions he gave brand new Cadillacs to individuals whose courtesy struck his fancy, or to whom he feared he may have been unkind.

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A few weeks ago, a Soviet newspaper carried a feature lamenting Elvis’ ill-treatment at the hands of the capitalists. It said he had been chewed up and discarded, a pauper.

Presley had finished a tour a little more than a week ago and was scheduled to begin another later this month, appearing first in Memphis.

Elvis with fans in Hawai’i (1961)

Photo from We Go Jam: Celebrating Our Music, Our Soundscape, Our Hawai’i, by John Titchen, 1961, via the National Endowment for the Humanities

Elvis with fans in Hawaii 1961

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