An Elvis Presley biographer has brought forth a new opinion on why the legendary rock ‘n’ roller died. In Sally Hoedel’s new book, Elvis: Destined To Die Young, she claims that Elvis died not because of drug abuse but because of his genetic make-up.
Hoedel believes that Elvis’ well-documented health problems were not a consequence of drug abuse. Rather, that they stemmed from the fact that Presley’s maternal grandparents were first cousins.
Hoedel’s position as a historian has caused her to draw upon the significance of the inbreeding in Presley’s family. Early deaths plagued Elvis’ mother’s side of the family — including three uncles. This notion is made all the more stark when we note that Elvis died at 42 and his mother Glady’s at 46.
In the book, Hoedel states: “They had a similar four-year period of degenerative health, and that’s interesting because she did not take the same medication as he took”. Hoedel also writes that Elvis was racked by disease in nine of the eleven bodily systems which were present since his birth.
She told the Observer: “Elvis is seen as less or more than human, like an image, and he’s been reduced to this rock’n’roll guy who died in his bathroom from taking too many pills”.
The author continued: “That’s not enough for a man who culturally shifted our universe. It’s not accurate and it’s not enough. Elvis was a sick man who hid a lot of his weakness to fill concert venues and support his family. By examining his flaws and health issues, maybe we can start to see his humanity again.”
Hoedel believes that, over the years, Presley’s public image has been muddied by the dense amount of discourse on his life. She said: “Elvis shifted our universe culturally like no one has before and he deserves to be treated like a historical figure, like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, but instead he gets weighed down by sensationalism, and that keep us from the truth”.
Among the numerous illnesses that debilitated Presley, there existed Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, immune deficiency and insomnia. Hoedel acknowledges that many writers have written these illnesses off as being the result of prescription drug abuse, enabled by his controversial doctor, George C. Nichopoulos. However, she claims that these long-standing illnesses are not solely explained by drug dependence.
“His health issues were varied but he hid them so well that over-medication is all we remember now,” Hoedel argues. “It became a problem, but why was he taking them in the first place?”
She explained: “Dr. Nick is a controversial figure. From my research, he was always trying to help Elvis but the line between friend and doctor got blurred. One of the reasons Elvis turned to the medication was pain. He took too much at times but he was self-medicating because he was trying to find a way to be Elvis Presley.”
Hoedel reverses the widely held view that Elvis was simply a drug addict engulfed by fame and excess. She takes a more sociological standpoint, regarding him as someone surviving through extreme health issues and poverty.
She explains: “Elvis’s story is looked on as one of destruction, but it is a futile struggle to survive, through poverty and then through health issues.” Hoedel maintains: “It was hard to be Elvis, no one had done fame like that before, and no one else could do it for him. He was trying to function within his reality.”
Elvis: Destined To Die Young, was published in December 2020 and is available from all good bookstores. Watch the rock ‘n’ roll icon perform ‘If I Can Dream’, below.