Elvis: what happened?
(“rejoice, for the King ain’t lost his crown,
he’s still here,
you are not alone”)
I’ve just finished reading the second volume of Peter Guralnick’s Elvis biography “Careless Love: the unmaking of Elvis Presley”. Incredibly, in this year 2015, Elvis would have reached the grand old age of 80.
I’ve been a major Elvis fan for most of my life and I’ve probably read my own body weight in Elvis books. At one point I was probably some kind of Elvis expert, I could quote numerous trivia and minutiae regarding the man, from his pre and post death body weight to his favourite recipes, most of which required burnt bacon, the odd squirrel or 6, and lashings of peanut butter……
Elvis has always been the epitome of Rock’n’Roll cool for me. The big black quiff, the upturned collars, the pointy shoes and the black leather. As I said in my piece about Scotland: Elvis invented the modern world through his music, a tidal wave of sex and colour and dance which blew away the doldrums and cobwebs in post second world war society . Rock’n’Roll style, as originally modelled by Elvis and his peers ( Gene Vincent/Jerry Lee Lewis/Johnny Cash, to name but 3 of the coolest ) has permeated all walks of our culture and society. It’s elements continue to influence. Even the Arctic Monkeys look like Elvis clones now……
He shone through Punk ( the black leather and sneer and aggression of the Ramones: indeed, Johnny was a massive Elvis fan ) the 60’s ( Lennon said before Elvis there was nothing, and those savage young Beatles in Hamburg were Elvis clones ) Country music ( sadly most of it’s more maudlin elements, tho half of he Country music hall of famers look like they were dressed by the Memphis Flash, with clothes from Nudies ) and even the 80’s New Romantics and Goths would have been lost without Elvis, and wouldn’t have worn black or had massive quiffs.
But here’s something undefinable beyond the black leather: an air of cool, a defiant beauty which Elvis was the master of, a tremendous grace that few are touched by. He was probably the most beautiful man that ever drew breath.
When Red and Sonny West released their book “Elvis: what happened?” on August the 1st 1977, it confirmed what the American tabloid press had been saying for several years: that Elvis was strung out on super heavy duty class A drugs, he was grossly over weight and desperately unhappy. The West’s book opened the doors of the Kingly palace, describing the kind of degeneracy that Led Zepplin, in their darkest days, could only aspire to. As early as 1973, Elvis almost fatally overdosed on Barbituates. In 1965 he told Red West’s wife that Dilaudid was the best painkiller, he knew because ‘I’ve tried them all”. Dilaudid is a painkiller usually given to terminal cancer patients.
Elvis was undoubtedly an extremely intelligent soul, and very well read, especially on spiritual matters, but his Bible was the Physicians desk reference, a guide to every single drug known to man. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of what drugs did what, and with a fortune matched by a mere handful of others on the planet, there were many “Doctors” willing to prescribe to Elvis whatever meds he fancied, for a price. His personal stash of Amphetamines and downers such as Quaaludes numbered several thousand pills a month, let alone the Heroin substitutes and Morphine derivatives, and eventually pure Cocaine Hydrochloride too.
In late Winter/early Spring 1967 at 2.00 a.m. one night, Elvis showed up at Jerry Schillings house and asked him to go to somewhere with him. It turned out to be the house of a pharmacist, where Elvis had a script filled for Darvon ( a painkiller given to the terminally ill ) and Placidy ( a super strength, highly addictive sleeping sedative ). Jerry said up until that point Elvis had been pretty secretive about the “hardcore narcotics”. After that night, Jerry said “everything started to go bad”.
When I lived in Florida, I spoke to lots of people about Elvis, and asked them if they’d seen him at the numerous gigs he’d played there right from the early tours of the late 50’s up til 1976. Several people told me they had, and I bought some wonderful black and white photos of Elvis in concert from 1956, shot by a local amateur photographer, from a shop in Fort Lauderdale called Elvisly yours.
But the one tale a lot of people would trot out was about the last gig that Elvis was scheduled to play in Miami, which he’d cancelled due to “health reasons”. The “health reasons” they said, was the super fine Peruvian flake Cocaine that Elvis had imbibed prior to the gig: he was so “fucked up” he couldn’t make the stage and was hospitalised as a result. I’ve not seen it mentioned in “Careless Love”, but they could have been describing any number of gigs in the last few years prior to Elvis’ death, sadly……
The moral latitude of our society still frowns upon people giving the thumbs up to the recreational use of drugs. But it’s bloody obvious the most dangerous drugs are completely legal. Apparently Elvis thought that as long as his drugs were legally prescribed ( and not illegal street drugs ) he didn’t have a drug problem. How could he? The Doctor had prescribed them. But Elvis really did take it to absolute extremes, drugs for him were like tea or water are for most people. And the gigs where he’d earn $2,000,000 clear enabled him to buy him his own private pharmacy.
Because we loved Elvis so much, we were prepared to forgive all his vices: “he needed the drugs, he was ill”, except it was the drugs that made him ill in the first place. He was self medicating the side effects of his medication. That’s hardcore. Certainly Guralnick’s book lifted several veils off of my eyes, yeah sure, I’d admit Elvis was addicted to hardcore pharm, but in numerous tomes I’ve been told that there was a history of health problems in his family, including heart and liver conditions. I guess his whole family self medicated, mostly with booze…..
I believe Elvis was one of the most important figures in the history of the world, but I want him to be stoned immaculate, not so fucked up that he can barely walk. There’s numerous stories from the ’76 tour where Elvis arrived back stage in his Limo, an assistant would open the door, he’d get out and fall to his knees. He’d scream at his “Mafia” not to help him, and he’d struggle to his feet and be virtually carried to the stage. Several of his backing band were seen to openly weep at Elvis’ dreadful condition.
It’s one of the worst cultural tragedies ever. A man who has reached so many people, and touched almost as many hearts as Jesus Christ, but couldn’t function as The King.
Heck, he could just call up the president, any time, he had ultimate power. So why did he kill himself? Did he think he was on a death trip? Or was it the side effects of the drugs he was taking, to counter the side effects of the drugs he was taking. Even the most liberal bios of Elvis before his death suggested he was seriously over weight and reclusive. If only they’d have told the shocking truth……
As men get older, if they have no partner or soul mate, no matter how many friends they have, life can be lonely and loveless. When you’re parents are gone, if you’re not in a rewarding relationship and you don’t have kids, it feels like there’s no one left to love you. Life becomes very bleak, especially if you’ve been used to the company of women.
I don’t believe Elvis chose to kill himself through drug abuse, he just simply stopped caring. After Priscilla and Lisa Marie moved out, the little stability and security he had in his life was gone. And he felt trapped, a lot of which was caused by the Colonel treating him like a cash cow, rather than a creative, sensitive human being. And I think his Christian beliefs/indoctrination led him to believe he was degenerate, and thus God could not save him. There was no hope. He once asked Jerry Lee Lewis if the press were right, did he play the Devil’s music? Jerry Lee turned to him and said “Boy, you are the Devil!”…..
The day before he died, Elvis stopped the rain. Walking from Graceland to his racket ball court, the heavens opened. Elvis turned to his friends and said with a little faith, anything was possible. And lifting his hands to the sky, and with a determined look on his face, incredibly Elvis stopped the rain.
Elvis told Marty Lacker he could hear the voice of Christ in bird song. He wasn’t entirely certain what Jesus was saying to him, but he was convinced the Messiah was trying to give him a sign. How tragic Elvis simply couldn’t hear that message…….
For Teresa, wherever she may roam……xxx
EPILOGUE: This sad tale isn’t just about Elvis, it’s about our society’s inability to believe their idols can be anything less than perfect, infallible. Our faith in something is extremely important, and for the Rock’n’Roll generation Elvis was that faith. For Elvis, being the ultimate human was too much of a cross to bear.
I know numerous mega Elvis fans who simply won’t believe Elvis was an addict, it’s simply not comprehensible to them, he was/is flawless, beyond human weakness. He is/was the new Christ, the new Messiah to millions. In a thousand years, Elvis will still be a cultural icon. Elvis is alive.
What happened to Elvis speaks volumes about our so called civilised Western society, for what does it profit a man, if he gains the world, but loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36)