In Baz Luhrmann’s biographical film ‘Elvis,’ Tom Hanks’ Colonel Tom Parker talks about the speculations that he is responsible for Elvis Presley’s death. The semi-fictionalized character states that Elvis died because of his fans who adored “The King,” especially since the latter always gave his all to satisfy his admirers and earn their love. The reality behind Elvis’ death, however, is more intricate. Elvis’ death at the age of forty-two created shockwaves throughout the country but anyone who knew about his health condition wouldn’t have startled learning about it. The legendary musician died after suffering several health issues and Parker’s role in the same is unignorable!
The King’s Death
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, at his estate, Graceland. Ginger Alden, his fiancé at the time, found him unconscious on the floor of a bathroom. Although he was taken to a hospital, he eventually died. The preliminary autopsy found that Elvis died of “cardiac arrhythmia” without the involvement of drugs but there was more to the cause of death. The blood tests that followed found high levels of opiates such as Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, and codeine, in addition to Quaaludes, in his body. At the time, he reportedly weighed only around 250 pounds. After his death, details concerning Elvis’ consumption of varying drugs came to light.
According to Joel Williamson’s ‘Elvis Presley: A Southern Life,’ George C. Nichopoulos (Dr. Nick in Baz Luhrmann’s film), Elvis’ physician, prescribed at least 8,805 pills, tablets, vials, and injectables to his celebrity patient/client since just seven and a half months before the latter’s death. The drugs the musician consumed during this period included Dilaudid, Quaalude, Percodan, Demerol, and cocaine hydrochloride, along with various uppers (psychostimulants) and downers (depressant or tranquilizing drugs). As per PBS, this wasn’t all. Elvis also consumed “antihistamines, tranquilizers such as Valium, barbiturates, Quaaludes, sleeping pills, hormones — and laxatives, for the constipation.”
If Elvis died due to a heart attack caused by severe constipation and other drug-consumption issues, how was Colonel Tom Parker present in the picture?
Pushing to the Limits
Colonel Tom Parker was not directly connected to Elvis Presley’s death. However, as per several Elvis experts, the contracts he made Elvis sign put an unbearable burden on the musician, which evidently affected the latter’s health. From 1969 to a year before he died in 1977, Elvis had to perform 636 Las Vegas residency shows at the International Hotel. To fulfill his contract, he even had to perform two concerts a night, seven days a week for a month.
David English, an Elvis expert and the author of ‘Elvis: That’s The Way It Is,’ believes that Parker pushed the famed musician to his limits during the time. Parker was infamous for his gambling addiction. To settle the debt he created by gambling at the casino tables in Las Vegas, the manager allegedly used Elvis and his performances. “Obviously he [Elvis] did agree to it. Colonel Parker had these huge debts with the casinos. He was induced into making these deals which weren’t necessarily right for his client, put it that way,” English told the Daily Express about the manager’s mismanagement of Elvis.
Elvis sacrificed his sleep immensely to fulfill his obligations while performing these residency shows. “He [Elvis] was very much a nighttime person. […] He’d definitely be getting up late afternoon. Then in that period of time, he’d be doing his first show, the dinner show. And then come back and do the midnight show, finishing at 2 in the morning. He’d then have to come down from that adrenaline rush for an after-show party. He’d have to entertain all the VIP guests after the show, having gotten changed. It’s early hours before he’d even begin to think about going to sleep,” English added about Elvis’ way of life at the time.
Parker apparently didn’t mind that Elvis was not fit enough to perform these many shows. Trusting his manager who made him a star, jeopardizing his health condition, Elvis performed as per the contracts Parker provided to him. “Elvis always respected The Parker from back in ’56, so he just thought, ‘Oh he’s making the best deal for me.’ When really it wasn’t the best arrangement to have those two shows in Vegas all that time. Certainly when you’re not particularly fit,” English said in the same Daily Express interview. Thus, Parker’s actions seemingly did contribute to the deterioration of Elvis’ health, which ultimately led to his death.