Elvis Presley remains the most iconic American musician of all time, even 40 years after his death in 1977. His albums still earn millions of dollars each year, and most artists in the industry today, across many genres attribute their musical inspiration to Elvis. But this successful and charismatic man was living in a great deal of pain, especially near the end of his life. Some experts, including Dr. Forrest Tennant feel that Elvis suffered from an autoimmune disease caused by traumatic brain injury that lead to chronic pain. By some accounts, Elvis’ symptoms were similar to Fibromyalgia.-total body pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbance, for instance.
Was his death due to a heart attack, or drug overdose?
The media portrayed his death as an overdose. We know that he struggled with insomnia, had an enlarged heart, and suffered from obesity, and many didn’t realize that his health began to decline after a serious concussion in 1967. He tripped on wires, hit his head on a bathtub, and was unconscious for hours, hallucinating, and incoherent.
It’s speculated that traumatic brain injury can trigger an autoimmune response in which antibodies attack nerves and joints causing pain. Elvis’s autopsy report supports this belief. Elvis complained of “pain all over” to his personal doctor, Dr. George Nichopoulos (Dr. Nick); yet, he was able to perform up to two months before his death.
His autoimmune disease caused a multitude of health problems including low back pain, muscle and joint pain, and glaucoma. “He wore those large glasses to protect his eyes because he was suffering from glaucoma,” Dr. Tennant said. “They became iconic, but that’s why he was wearing them.” Despite his pain and suffering, Elvis found a way to remain cool and appreciative to his fans.
George Klein, Elvis’s childhood friend said that Elvis loved music, appreciated his fame, and loved life. George did say that after 1974, he felt Elvis’s health began to decline and it was harder for him to perform. As a result, “Dr. Nick had him on certain medications to help him sleep and wake up, and those were considered safe. But what we didn’t know was that other doctors were secretly sending him medications,” he said.
Near the end of his life, he exhibited some erratic behavior and obsessive compulsive tendencies. Elvis would buy horses for those he knew, or screen movies all night, or go to the roller skating rink daily. Patients with traumatic brain injury can show signs of these mental impairments. But George felt that Elvis was not incapacitated, but mostly concerned with his weight and his pain.
Elvis’s complex medical history made the cause of his death complicated. According to the autopsy report, he died of a fatal arrhythmia most likely from the combination of drugs he was taking. A genetic defect in the metabolism of codeine, however may have been an additional culprit. In fact, Elvis was given codeine for dental pain the day before his death.
Elvis is being remembered this week at Graceland through many events including a candlelight vigil and concerts.