• George Nichopoulos: Doctor to The King


    Elvis called his personal physician Dr. Nick. That was just about all I knew of their relationship until I recently read the book "The King and Dr. Nick."

    As an Elvis fan, and a lover of books, it was amazing how different my memories were from the facts. The book has such an eye popping twist to how Elvis Presley died, that I wanted to hear from Dr. Nick in person.

    He has had two strokes recently, back to back but he said yes to an interview. We sat in the den of his East Memphis home that Elvis insisted he build and talked about The King and Dr. Nick book and what really happened to Elvis and Dr. George Nichopoulos.

    Thirty-six years after Elvis died in 1977, the UT Medical school doctor, known for his caring bedside manner and his cotton white hair, talks in quiet, heart-breaking measures about the death of Elvis Presley. More like he lost a son than a patient.
    "The autopsy of the king of rock and roll was done fewer than twenty-four hours after Elvis' death.  I watched it." You watched it?" "I watched it. You don't know how hard that was," says Dr. Nick.
    They met on a house call to Presley's North Mississippi ranch. Elvis convinced him to travel around the country as his personal physician and doctor to the road crew as well. They developed closeness akin to family.  In 1973, the doctor is seen relaxing with family in Hawaii before the history making concert, Aloha from Hawaii.

    Four years later, Elvis was dead.

    It would be twenty-two years before Dr. Nichopoulos wrote his account of how Elvis died.

    The stories might make you a bigger Elvis fan than before; either because of how hard Elvis worked for his fans behind the scenes, or his generosity and loyalty to friends and family. But there is also a section about Elvis' demons, both personal and medical.

    Mearl Purvis: "There were pills to sleep, pills for anxiety, laxatives...Which did he need most?"

    Dr. Nick:  "Guess, at different times needed all different pills and it turns out the meds had nothing to do with his death."

    May of 1980, Dr. Nick was arrested and charged with over-prescribing drugs to eleven patients, including Elvis Presley. Under oath Dr. Nick admitted that he prescribed pain killers for Elvis' arthritis, heavy doses of laxatives, sleeping pills for his insomnia and amphetamines for weight loss. But he also took drastic measures to manage his patient's dependence on medication.

    He and others testified he moved a nurse to Graceland just to monitor and dispense Elvis' meds. "I found out we got into less trouble with him with medications or drugs if we kept them in our hands instead of giving them to him to take. He'd give you a good argument. 'I'm a patient; you don't treat other patients that way. You give them a script and tell them to go.'"

    Dr. Nick documented that he often used placebos, instead of real drugs to help keep Elvis from mismanaging pills. "Before one show I pumped him up with placebos, he did the greatest show ever done. On placebos, I made a mistake by telling him that. Then he started having questions about what I was giving him, was I giving him placebos or giving him the real thing. "

    In 1981, Dr. George Nichopoulos was found not guilty of all charges tied to the death of Elvis Presley. That didn't satisfy the national media; a cover up was suggested.

    So another autopsy was ordered, this one was done by an experienced Medical Examiner in Dade County, Florida
    Dr. Joseph Davis' verdict: the same as the Tennessee medical examiner -drugs did not kill Elvis Presley. He said, "There was only trace amounts found in his system. He added, it takes hours to die from drugs. The scene itself told what happened to Elvis."

    The infamous bathroom scene was shared in painstaking detail in Dr. Nick's book.

    Even after not one, but two autopsy reports that showed Elvis died of a heart attack from natural causes, and Dr. Nick was cleared of any criminal charges, the national media still insisted drugs were behind the death.
    As described in the book, "The King and Dr. Nick," Dr. Nick tried in vain to save Elvis Presley on August 16th, 1977, on the way to Baptist hospital, in the ambulance; and again at the hospital. He recalls what happened that night, in the master bathroom at Graceland, before the ambulance arrived.
    "He fell on the floor; he was having a seizure then. His heart overexerted itself, beat too fast, the maneuver of straining which slows your heart down. You can sit there in your chair right now, and strain for a few minutes or less and you can feel your pulse drop down."
    Dr. Nick writes that watching the autopsy, offered everyone in the room an instant explanation for why Elvis was sometimes bloated, and why he found no relief even from heavy doses of laxatives. He says Elvis had a condition known as Megacolon.

    "There are different causes for the Megacolon. Don't think his was heredity but was from a viral disease or disease of the nervous system to the colon."

    Dr. Nick says reports about the size of Elvis' colon were not exaggerated; two to three feet longer than the average human size with pounds and pounds of blockage.

    "When you got a bag of cement in the colon, trying to get rid of it, it's like a rock, because the barium that was left in colon 3 or 4 month should have been gone in 3 or 4 days. Food couldn't get through. Barium is like concrete, it wouldn't move."

    Dr. Nick is convinced that sharing the story sooner, had he been allowed by the court or Elvis' family, could have saved his career. Most important, he feels that if tests had been done to reveal the Megacolon condition, he could have saved the life of the King of Rock and Roll.

    "Hurts so bad to know how much time I devoted to guy, not to make money... not to do something for anybody... purely the joy he brought to people."

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