Were you alive the day the king died? In an instance, Elvis Presley’s life (b. Jan. 8, 1935-Aug. 16, 1977) became a flash of remorse of how he could have been a dignified man in his later years. He could have been except for the sordid illness of addiction stealing him from himself and from the fans who loved him.
A nation’s eyes watched the small, barely-colored television set as the evening news anchors announced how the ambulance came and carried him away. The cause of his death was a heart attack, announced the coroners, but he died from the illness of addiction and the heart attack was the symptom of the illness which ended his life.
Elvis died much too young–42–and, ironically, his early death may have been a premonition of what Americans now face as life expectancy has decreased. Drug addiction and suicide have become among the top contributing factors to lowering the life expectancy of Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide and drug overdose deaths are at the highest rate that they’ve ever been in 50 years. Last year, 70,000 Americans died, the most deaths in a single year since the government began keeping track.
“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” said Robert R. Redfield, M.D., CDC Director.
Born Jan. 8, 1935, Elvis Presley had the life many people only dream about or feel jealous of. So, what conditions drove him to begin using drugs to cope with his life’s issues?
The descent may have started in his impressionable young adulthood when he entered the U.S. Army. The physical demands and disrupted sleeping patterns likely set the stage for Presley to develop a dependence, then later an addiction, to drugs which are designed to alter normal responses to stress. An aging performer paired with the demands of a fast-paced glamorous lifestyle created a perfect recipe to abuse performance enhancing medications. Also, biographers state Elvis had insomnia and a phobia of going to sleep dating back to his childhood for which he took prescription sleeping pills.
Ex-wife Priscilla Presley defends the attempts Elvis’s inner circle made to control or force him to end his drug use.
“People go, ‘Well why didn’t anyone do anything?’,” she recalled in an interview given at SXSW in Austin. “Well, that’s not true. People there in the inner group did, but you did not tell Elvis Presley what to do. You did not. I mean, you’d be out of there faster than a scratched cat. They would try and no way. He knew what he was doing.”
And that is the maneuvering all families who love people with an addiction can relate to. Elvis could afford the thousands of dollars that are poured into the treatment of someone who suffers from an addiction. He chose not to take that step. Or, perhaps, he thought like many people with addiction do that he can stop anytime and that this wasn’t the time. This line of thinking is a slippery slope of denial and minimization of the effects of abusing drugs. Unfortunately, for some people with the illness of addiction hitting bottom is death.
Elvis in his insistence on “doing it my way” lived his life on the edge until he finally plummeted over.
If you are struggling with sobriety, please reach out for help. Call your local council on alcoholism and drug addiction. Recovery begins with your decision. You have a life worth living. Keep the music alive!