Singer Elvis Presley would have been 86 this week.
Elvis’s final years were anything but glamorous. He had a full-time nurse, who says he refused to bathe throughout 1975, causing him to develop sores on his body. He suffered from chronic constipation and had compacted stool that was four months old sitting in his bowel.
The singer had also been prescribed almost 9,000 pills, vials and injections in the seven months leading up to his death.
His girlfriend Ginger Alden was the one to find his body with his pajama bottoms around his ankles and his bottom in the air, as if he had fallen forward while sitting on the toilet.
Ginger, who was just 21 at the time, wrote in her memoir, “His arms lay on the ground, close to his sides, palms facing upward. It was clear that, from the moment he landed on the floor, Elvis hadn’t moved. I gently turned his face toward me. A hint of air expelled from his nose. The tip of his tongue was clenched between his teeth and his face was blotchy. I gently raised one eyelid. His eye was staring straight ahead and blood red.”
An autopsy was carried out the day of his death, but his family immediately sealed the report for 50 years. This sparked many theories about what actually caused the singer’s death.
Dan Warlick, the chief investigator for the Tennessee Office of the State Chief Medical Examiner, attended the autopsy and fueled the popular theory that Elvis died while trying to go to the bathroom.
He once said, “Presley’s chronic constipation – the result of years of prescription drug abuse and high-fat, high-cholesterol gorging – brought on what’s known as Valsalva’s maneuver. Put simply, the strain of attempting to defecate compressed the singer’s abdominal aorta, shutting down his heart.”
Others claimed he’d died from a drug overdose, but when the investigation was reopened in 1994, coroner Joseph Davis disagreed.
He said, “The position of Elvis Presley’s body was such that he was about to sit down on the commode when the seizure occurred. He pitched forward onto the carpet, his rear in the air, and was dead by the time he hit the floor. If it had been a drug overdose, [Elvis] would have slipped into an increasing state of slumber. He would have pulled up his pajama bottoms and crawled to the door to seek help. It takes hours to die from drugs.”
The autopsy results are due to be unlocked in 2027. Until then, the biggest insight into the star’s mysterious death has come from prominent California physician, Forest Tennant, who actually reviewed the report while defending Elvis’ doctor, Dr. George Nichopoulos, who was later acquitted of over-prescribing drugs.
For Tennant, one major clue was in the full-body deterioration of Elvis. Almost every organ was in horrible condition.
As a young man, Elvis had been extremely fit, playing football and practicing martial arts. He started abusing drugs, including amphetamines, opioids, and sedatives as a teenager. He is known to have had a terrible diet.
First, he complained of vertigo, back pain, and insomnia, eye infections and headaches. In 1973, he was rushed to the hospital in a semi-coma. He was found to be suffering from jaundice, severe respiratory distress, marked swelling of his face, distended abdomen, constipation, a gastric, bleeding ulcer, and hepatitis.
He was hospitalized again in 1975 with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a condition called megacolon, where the large intestine becomes distended and can allow toxins to flood the body.
He also had at least four near-death overdoses that left him unconscious and in need of resuscitation. His heart was double the normal size.
Despite having never smoked, he also suffered from emphysema. So what caused all of these disease processes in his stomach, liver, lungs, heart, spine, eyes, and bowel?
Forest believes it was all due to a serious head injury he sufferred in 1967 that triggered a progressive autoimmune inflammatory disorder.
In his opinion, as shared in a 2013 medical paper, when Elvis tripped over a television cord and knocked himself out on the bathtub, the injury was so severe that it caused brain tissue to dislodge and seep into his blood circulation.
There, the body identified the matter as foreign and produced antibodies to destroy it, triggering hypogammaglobulinemia, a disorder of the body’s immune system.
At the time, little was understood about auto-immune conditions, but these days they are known to cause most of the symptoms Elvis displayed, from chronic pain, irrational behavior, obesity, and enlarged and diseased organs like hearts and bowels.
And in 2016, Garry Rodgers, a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, told the Huffington Post that with those findings in mind, he would have attributed Elvis’ death to a heart attack caused by heart disease and drug use caused by an autoimmune disease which was sparked by a brain injury.
He said, “I’d have to classify Elvis’s death as an accident. There’s no one to blame – certainly not Elvis. He was a severely injured and ill man. There’s no specific negligence on anyone’s part and definitely no cover-up or conspiracy of a criminal act. If Dr. Forrest Torrent is right, there simply wasn’t a proper understanding back then in determining what really killed the King of Rock & Roll.”