Death of a King

40 years ago today, the King of Rock and Roll passed away at his Graceland home in Memphis.

Death of a King © Getty Images

Behind the glittery jumpsuits and slicked-back hair, Elvis Presley was slowly dying. Though his successful and glamorous music career was the envy of many a musician, it had a severe impact on Presley’s physical – and mental – health.

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Born a poor boy in the Deep South, the young Elvis was unprepared for superstardom. When he was discovered in his late teens, he was still working odd jobs. The next 20 years would see him performing both on the stage and the silver screen. But after his marriage broke down in 1972, his health began a slow decline. He started to overdose on sleeping pills and had once ended up in a three-day coma. His colleagues worried about him, but he pressed on, apparently in denial about his physical condition.

Elvis fans continue to pay their respects at Graceland © iStock
Elvis fans continue to pay their respects at Graceland © iStock

By 1977, Presley was severely overweight and barely able to make it through his live shows. A shadow of the man he once was, he could no longer perform his famous dance moves – and fans had noticed. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when three disgruntled bodyguards released a book, detailing Elvis’s years of drug abuse. He was found dead on the bathroom floor of his Graceland mansion soon afterwards, apparently from a mixture of various medications. He was 42.

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Thousands of people flocked to Graceland to see his open-casket funeral. People mourned and wept – and some secretly photographed the body and sold their story to national newspapers. A couple of months after his death, it was alleged that an attempt was made to steal his body. He was soon reburied in his meditation garden, beside his mother and grandmother. 
His grave still attracts thousands of visitors to this day.