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Authors Say Elvis Died of an Allergic Reaction to Codeine

December 31, 1990|From Reuters

NEW YORK — It promises to be the last word on the death of Elvis.

After more than 20 books written since Elvis Presley was found sprawled on the bathroom floor at his Graceland mansion in 1977, dead at age 42, the latest offers conclusions that any Elvis fan would love.

The death of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, it says, was not the result of suicide or a drug overdose, even though Presley was addicted to a variety of medications, including uppers, downers and painkillers.

In "The Death of Elvis: What Really Happened," the authors claim that while he may have been excessive, compulsive, drug-abusive and probably neurotic, Presley was not suicidal.

His death was an accident, the authors say, a case of medical mistaken identity.

"Elvis was the victim of his own persona--so caught up with the image of (being) a young, virile, gyrating entertainer," said James Cole, one of the authors.

"He got sort of frozen in time. He was getting older, gray, beginning to paunch out--never able to mature beyond that excessive celebrity that we got to know in the 1950s."

While loyal followers refuse to believe anything that could tarnish his image, occasional "Elvis sightings" in shopping malls in the Midwest and tabloid declarations of newly discovered "Elvis love children" feed the nation's appetite for Elvis mania.

No less than 22 books have been written since Aug. 16, 1977, when a terrifically bloated Elvis was found, pajama bottoms around his knees, face down on a bathroom carpet. He had been dead for hours.

A web of lost, omitted or ignored autopsy and pathology test results did nothing but muddy the waters surrounding the death. Theories included suicide, accidental drug overdose, heart disease, cancer--even exploded arteries due to chronic constipation.

Cole, who wrote the book with Charles Thompson II, says these theories are pure bunk.

"We're trying to tell the truth about Elvis. We were not going into this to try to besmirch or defend, but try to tell the truth about what killed him.

"It's a free speech issue. We feel the story has been suppressed," Cole said from his real-estate office in Memphis, not far from Presley's home, Graceland.

Of all the memoirs of the man who so changed the face of popular music--by bodyguards, maids, admirers and even his wife--none has thoroughly investigated data which indicate that Elvis' death was an accident, Cole said.

He and Thompson maintain that the crazy theories were a result of records suppressed by officials, beginning with the local medical examiner, who felt it was his duty to protect the privacy, interests and sentiments of the deceased.

Cole said that Elvis, while a drug abuser who took thousands of pills and injections each year to ease myriad physical and mental ills, was not suicidal.

What he did have, however, and what led ultimately to his demise, was an allergy to codeine, Cole said. The allergy was severe enough that, in combination with other drugs in his system, it could have been fatal.

"We discovered this. The pathologist (investigating the death) didn't know this," Cole said.

"Elvis Presley would not have knowingly taken codeine. He made a mistake."

According to toxicological reports, at the time of death Presley had in his body 10 times the normal therapeutic dose of codeine, an amount which alone could have caused serious harm.

Villains in the Elvis saga include his personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, the dentist who prescribed the codeine, personal assistants and friends who indulged his insatiable appetite for drugs, and his family and himself.

One of the book's shortcomings may be that, as in an Agatha Christie mystery where clues are disclosed at the end to solve the case, information is introduced late in the book.

In the final chapter Elvis is portrayed as a victim--of age, drug addiction, public image and the press. It was no secret that the Elvis image was ferociously protected.

The authors admit Elvis was no genius and not very introspective.

"When realities didn't suit him, he popped pills to change them," they wrote.

Yet, they write, the realities remained and each year Elvis became fatter, more undisciplined, and more dependent on the thousands of pills and injections he took.

According to Larry Hutchinson, a criminal investigator involved in the case of official misconduct lodged against Presley's doctor, "This shows you what occurs when fame and money enter into the picture.

"In my mind Elvis had a very bad, a tremendous drug problem, and it resulted in his death.

"And that problem overshadowed all the good things that he did for the city of Memphis and overshadowed his great talent and entertaining ability."

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