How did Elvis Presley die? A look at ‘The King’s’ cryptic cause of death

It has been the source of much investigation.
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“This is the end of rock ‘n’ roll,” Warner Bros. Records’ Bob Moore Merlis said on Radio Luxembourg as news of Elvis Presley’s death broke.  

Known as ‘The King of rock’, Elvis’ literally thrusted onto the music scene in the 1950s… to much accompanying “moral panic”. 

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His successes soon humbled sceptics. Even today the musician is neck-and-neck with Michael Jackson for the title of best-selling solo artist of all time.  

Such was (and is) Elvis’ influence that announcement of his death was accompanied by immeasurable shock as tributes spread far and wide. Radio stations played his hits back-to-back, while TV data recorded a significant increase in households glued to the news that evening.

Elvis died on August 16 1977 at age 42. (Credit: Getty)

How did Elvis die? 

On the afternoon of August 16 1977, at age 42, Elvis was found by his girlfriend, Ginger Alden, lying unconscious on his bathroom floor.  

Despite being rushed to the Baptist Memorial Hospital and multiple revival attempts, ‘The King’ was pronounced dead at 3:30pm. 

While it appeared that the cause was a heart attack, the Jailhouse Rock singer’s death has been a source of much investigation as it became a possibility that drugs were involved.  

Initially, Elvis’ family reportedly requested a private autopsy. When the official death certificate was made public, Tennessee’s Chief Medical Examiner Jerry Francisco said that the Blue Hawaii star “died of heart disease”. 

Elvis’ death sparked many tributes across the globe. (Credit: Getty)

“Prescription drugs found in his blood were not a contributing factor,” Francisco told American Medical News. “Had these drugs not been there, he still would have died.” 

Opiates, barbiturates, and sedatives were found in the toxicology report of his blood.  

Three years after Elvis’ death, his former physician, Dr. George Nichopoulas (Dr Nick), had his medical license suspended for three months by the state of Tennessee for indiscriminately prescribing controlled substances.  

The Heartbreak Hotel singer was reportedly prescribed over 12,000 pills and other pharmaceuticals in the last two years of his life.

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In a 2009 interview with The Memphis Commercial Appeal, Dr Nick said he didn’t regret prescribing the drugs to the rock star.  

“They were necessities,” he said, adding that he overprescribed because he “cared too much”.  

In 1981, the physician was reportedly charged with 11 felony counts of overprescribing drugs, but he was acquitted. 13 years later, the inquest into Elvis’ death was re-opened. Dr Nick was exonerated as the evidence pointed to a heart attack. 

“There is nothing in any of the data that supports a death from drugs,” said coroner Dr Joseph Davis at the time.  

A year later, Dr Nick was permanently suspended by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. He passed away in 2016.  

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