How Did Elvis Die?

From a sealed autopsy to his doctor's trial for dangerously overprescribing drugs, mystery still surrounds the King's final months.

The King of Rock 'n' Roll's short life left fans devastated. Also, curious. In fact, to this day, 45 years after his untimely death, people still question what exactly happened—and how did it all end so quickly?

With the release of a thrilling new biopic, Elvis, out now, the details of Elvis Presley's life are being introduced to a new generation. (And recalled, hopefully fondly, by an older.) The film is directed by Baz Luhrmann, and stars Austin Butler as Presley—who disappeared powerfully into the role, even learning how to sing—and Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker.

The work focuses primarily on the chaos of Presley's rise but closes with a powerful performance that took place just a couple of months before he died. Here, we're breaking down the singer's legacy, and why mystery still swirls around his final moments.

A Rockstar's Legacy, and a Few of His Controversies

Elvis Presley's life first became a spectacle in the '50s. He changed the way America thinks about music and challenged the very limits of decorum. He notched 108 Billboard Hot 100 hits during his tenure, and his home, the Graceland Mansion, is the second most visited property in the United States. (The White House is first.) He is widely regarded as the king of rock music.

But he also had his fair share of controversies, from the musician's embrace of the holy trifecta of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll and, especially, his dating a 14-year-old. It has been claimed that he frequently pursued underage women while on tour.

elvis presley performing
Elvis performing just two months before his death in 1977.
BettmannGetty Images

When And Where Did Elvis Die?

The King's life came to an end on August 16, 1977. He was found unconscious by his then girlfriend, Ginger Alden, on the bathroom floor in his Graceland mansion home. He was rushed to the hospital and, after several attempts to revive him failed, he was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. He was only 42 years old.

At the time, his death was ruled a heart failure. However, what actually happened?

The Truth Of Elvis's Death

Mystery still surrounds how Elvis really died because his autopsy was sealed away by his family for 50 years. It will continue to be private until 2027, though some telling information was revealed at the time—like that drugs like Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, Codeine, and Quaaludes were all found in the singer's blood when he died. This was shocking as his family, despite Elvis's degrading appearance, largely kept his substance abuse under wraps. Many complained, including doctors, that the pronouncement of his cause of death seemed rushed, overly accommodating to his loved ones, and incomplete.

Drugs were not the only issue though, Elvis had a long list of other health problems. (Though certainly many are related.) He gained a substantial amount of weight, and even refused to bathe throughout 1975 which led him to develop sores on his body. He also suffered from insomnia which was an influence in him becoming addicted to amphetamines.

Who's To Blame?

Even though Elvis didn't take "street drugs" he was still an addict. And he was being overprescribed by doctor C. Nichopoulos, also known as Dr. Nick. The medical professional prescribed thousands of drugs for Elvis during the final years of his life. In a PEOPLE report from 1980, it was revealed that he wrote orders for 12,000 pills in just the 20 months that preceded his death. That same year, Dr. Nick had his license suspended for three months by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners who charged him with dangerously overprescribing drugs not only for Elvis Presley but for 19 other patients as well.

The following fall, in 1981, Dr. Nick was charged with 11 felony counts of overprescribing drugs. He was, however, acquitted. In 1995, his license was permanently revoked.

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