Thursday, 5 December 2013

D is for Dilaudid

Pharmaceutical morphine in pill form. Elvis liked Dilaudid. He also liked Amytal, Quaaludes, Dexedrine, Biphetamine and Percodan, all pills and capsules prescribed to him by Dr George Nichopoulos — Dr Nick, to both Elvis and tabloid headline writers. 

Not that this meant Elvis was a junkie. Rather, as many fine minds have pointed out, he was a heavy user of pharmaceutical preparations — addicted not to ‘proscribed drugs’ but ‘prescribed drugs’. In the last two and a half years of Elvis’ life, Dr Nick wrote him scripts for 19,000 hits of the drugs he liked. ‘The worst case of indiscriminate oversubscribing I have ever seen in my investigations for the State of Tennessee’, said a local prosecutor on Geraldo Rivera’s 13 September, 1979 US TV report, The Elvis Cover-Up, which first exposed the extent and range of Elvis’ multiple drug abuse.

Yet… both the Board of Medical Examiners and the jury at a criminal trial cleared Nichopoulos of any wrong-doing. ‘He expended enormous efforts to keep drugs from Elvis and more than once saved his life,’ wrote Stanley Booth, Rolling Stones biographer, fellow Memphian and patient of Dr Nick’s, in a touching and vibrant essay for Mojo magazine. ‘The only people who understood that apparently were the jury who acquitted him.’ In the piece, Booth quoted Sun rockabilly Charlie Feathers: ‘It wasn’t drugs that killed Elvis, it was breakfast.’

Sam Phillips didn’t agree. For him, it was a broken heart that killed Elvis, only not a physical but a metaphorical one. ‘I’m talking about emotional entrapment. That’s deep stuff. And it’s serious stuff. And no matter what happens to you in this world, if you don’t make it your business to be happy, then you maybe have gained the whole world and lost your spirit and maybe even your damned soul.’

Fifteen years after Elvis’ death, in an interview with LIFE magazine, Nichopoulos, then still practising medicine in Memphis, said of Elvis: ‘I used to see him every day. When I’d get through at the office, I’d stop by at Graceland and see how he was doing. Now I find different ways to go home so I won’t be reminded.’

Next up Elvis and his tabloid life

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