Background to Elvis Presley's last words
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935. His family lived in a modest two-room house, built by his father Vernon - a house they lost when Vernon was sent to jail for check fraud when Elvis was one year old. Elvis had an active, outdoor childhood and was said by his family to have been disappointed when he received a guitar for his 11th birthday and would have preferred either a bicycle or a rifle.
His early music influences of living and attending chapel in mixed-race neighborhoods in Tupelo and later in Memphis, Tennessee, led him to take an interest in the rhythmic, gospel influenced country style later called Rockabilly. He made his first recording, at the Sun Recording Studios, in August 1953 - answering the studio receptionist's question of "Who do you sound like?" with the unhelpful, but as it turns out, correct, answer "I don't sound like nobody".
His raw singing style and natural visceral stage demeanor found an appreciative audience and the timely emergence of Rock and Roll as a popular genre catapulted Presley to sudden stardom. He was very quickly established as the most popular singer of his generation and his position of 'King of Rock and Roll' has never been challenged.
The musically spontaneous and heady early days of Sun Records and Heartbreak Hotel didn't last long. Presley's global rise to fame and success soon brought commercial pressures, from his manager and others, who were eager to capitalise on his popularity. He was encouraged to cash in on his fame and natural charm by making a series of musical films which, although making considerable sums at the box-office, were critically panned and now appear rather comical and sad.
Pressure of work is frequently cited as the reason Elvis Presley turned to drugs. He used barbiturates and stimulants to control his energy levels and, by the late 1960s, was taking them in prodigious quantities. Unlike many of his peers, who were ingesting similarly ruinous amounts of marijuana and LSD, Presley preferred prescription drugs.
The decline in his physical state can be compared with the decline in his music. Beginning as an athletic, ground-breaking force in Rockabilly and Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley deteriorated into an overweight and apathetic crooner, playing formulaic concerts, mainly to blue-rinsed matrons in Las Vegas. His stage demeanor was so altered from his early appearances that, had he sat at a grand piano, he would have been difficult to tell from Liberace.
His use of prescription drugs had, by the 1970s, become so gargantuan that early death was inevitable. His personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, had written Presley over 10,000 prescriptions in just eight months, prior to his death in 1977. Nichopoulos later claimed to have attempted to wean Presley of drugs by substituting placebos. His medical license to prescribe drugs as revoked in 1995.
Elvis and Priscilla Presley, the girl he had married on May 1, 1967, were divorced on October 9, 1973. His friends report him as becoming increasingly unwell and he suffered two barbiturate overdoses during that year, the second of which put him into a coma for three days.
On the evening of his death, in August 1977, at his home Graceland, Elvis Presley was suffering from glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage and an enlarged colon.
His then girlfriend, Ginger Alden, reported that he said he wasn't able to sleep and that he was going to the bathroom (with three packets of prescription drugs) "to read" - by which she understood him to mean "to take more prescription drugs". She called to him "Don't fall asleep in there". His reply was "Okay, I won't". Alden, after waking from a short sleep, found Presley dead on the bathroom floor.