Elvis and Priscilla Presley's Divorce: The Decline Of The King's Health

Icons | February 23, 2020

Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley & Elvis Presley (Photo by Magma Agency/WireImage)

If the decline of Elvis tells us anything it’s that human beings weren’t meant to be famous, or at least not for our entire lives. The King’s lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock n roll was unsustainable, and aside from the toll that his addictions took on his health, his emotional well being was dashed by the constant speculation about his life. After entering into a longterm relationship with Priscilla Ann Wagner when she was only 14 years old (he was ten years her senior) Elvis did anything but settle down. When the two separated in 1972 Presley tumbled beyond the depths to which he already sunk and drowned in excess for the final years of his life.

There was no chance for Elvis and Priscilla to have a normal relationship

source: BBC

After meeting in Germany in 1959 Elvis and Priscilla carried on a relationship that was both strange to outsiders and, as Priscilla tells it, surprisingly sweet. The two were together for seven and a half years before tying the knot on May 1, 1967, in a brief ceremony in their suite at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Even though Elvis is known for his dalliances with his leading women, he and Priscilla supposedly had very little physical contact, although nine months after their marriage she gave birth to their only daughter.

Priscilla says that after she gave birth Elvis grew cold towards her, saying that he couldn’t sleep with her because she was a mother. It’s an understatement to say that the situation was confusing and that she felt hurt in the process. During this point in their relationship Priscilla was taking karate lessons from an instructor named Mike Stone. Their one on one sessions became a full blown affair and when Elvis found out he was irate. 

Elvis wanted to kill Mike Stone

source: Tumblr

After The King found out that a fellow karate master was sleeping with his wife Elvis was distraught. Priscilla cut off her relationship with Stone but she also ended things with Presley on February 23, 1972. The end of their long relationship full ups and downs sent Presley into one of his worst downward spirals, inspiring him to kill his former friend. He was taking massive amounts of medication but nothing could keep his freak outs in check, things got so bad that his longtime friend Red West sought out a contract killer to get rid of Stone. The conspiracy let up when Elvis finally said, "Aw hell, let's just leave it for now. Maybe it's a bit heavy."

After his divorce The King carried on as if nothing was wrong

source: flickr

Presley's divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973, and by then he was deep in the throes of pain killer and alcohol addiction. That year he overdosed on barbiturates twice, and in one instance he spent three days in a coma in his hotel suite. By the end of the year was put in the hospital in a near comatose state. Even though he was clearly suffering from the side effects of drug abuse The King believed that he was better than the average drug addict because doctors were writing prescriptions for him. Even though he was going full junkie in 1973 he managed to play 168 concerts.

His band thought he was going to die on the road in 1974

sourcE: pinterest

Presley should have taken a break in 1974. He needed to get clean, deal with his emotions and just get some rest. He was clearly burnt out and killing himself with drugs and alcohol and the last thing he should have done is gone back to work, and yet in 1974 he went back on the road. With his health in spectacular decline his performances were erratic at best. Keyboardist Tony Brown remembers the band’s arrival to a performance at the University of Maryland as extra disastrous:

[Elvis] fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jumped to help, and he pushed them away like, 'Don't help me.' He walked on stage and held onto the mic for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody's looking at each other like, 'Is the tour gonna happen'?

Guitarist John Wilkinson remembers watching Elvis fall apart on on stage and realizing it was the beginning of the end:

He was all gut. He was slurring. He was so f*cked up. It was obvious he was drugged. It was obvious there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad the words to the songs were barely intelligible. I remember crying. He could barely get through the introductions.

He recorded six albums in three years

source: elvis presley music

Everyone knew that Elvis was in a bad place during the final years of his life. He needed to get help but Elvis was too proud to admit he was in trouble - the one thing that could have forced him to get sober was his label RCA. Unfortunately they were mostly worried about his waning interest in recording new material. After getting 18 songs out of Elvis’ December 1973 sessions Presley recorded more tracks in Los Angeles in 1975. A year later RCA sent a mobile studio to Graceland so Presley could record even more tracks while in the comfort of his home. In that time he produced six albums, with five of them going into the top five on the country charts.

Presley withdrew from everyone in his final years

source: Liveabout

By 1976 Presley had withdrawn completely from anything resembling his previous life. He recorded at Graceland when he had to but aside from that he mostly hung out in his room. When he did perform it was a disaster. During one show in Alexandria, Louisiana he was “impossible to understand” and on March 31 he refused to get out of his hotel bed in Baton Rouge, a decision that ended in the cancelation of four shows. If Elvis realized how disappointing his performances were he didn’t let anyone know. After the shows he did finish he returned to his hotel room until he decided to come out again. Presley’s cousin, Billy Smith, remembers The King sitting in his room in Graceland and recounting his favorite Monty Python sketches and reading up on spirituality in a pill fueled haze.

Elvis felt betrayed in his final days

source: pinterest

In the summer of 1977 Elvis was on his way out even if no one wanted to admit it. His years of drug abuse had taken a toll on his body, his performances and his relationships. On August 1, 1977 the book Elvis: What Happened?, written by three former bodyguards, was published making it the first look into Elvis’ life. The King tried to stop the book’s release but it was no use. On top of his glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon, everyone knew about his drug and alcohol abuse. The public knew that he was no longer The King. On the afternoon of August 16, 1977, Presley was discovered in an unresponsive state on his bathroom floor by Ginger Alden. One eye witness stated:

Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the commode and then had fallen forward, in that fixed position, directly in front of it. [...] It was clear that, from the time whatever hit him to the moment he had landed on the floor, Elvis hadn't moved.

Presley was officially pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis.

Tags: Elvis Presley | Priscilla Presley

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.