We often think of significant public figures as immortal. If forced to cope with the fact that they are indeed mere mortals like everyone else — and will thus die, just like us — we tend to imagine their final moment being as consequential as the entirety of their existence. But, as these final embarrassing moments show, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Elvis Presley

embarassing-death-elvis

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty

We all know that the death of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, has become a pop culture conspiracy in and of itself. Many people don’t believe he died at all — and “sightings” are reported frequently.

The actual matter of Presley’s death is more sad than it is strange.

On August 16, 1977, a dispatcher received a 911 call stating that someone at Elvis Presley Boulevard was having difficulty breathing. An ambulance was dispatched to the mansion and the EMTs knew, as anyone else in Memphis did, that it was the home of Elvis Presley they were careening toward.

One of the Presley bodyguards met them at the gate, apparently telling them: “He’s upstairs and I think it’s an OD.”

When recounting Presley’s death, it’s often been stated that he died sitting on the toilet — which is arguably one of the more embarrassing ways to die. Furthermore, when it was later discovered that he had suffered a massive heart attack at just 42, many postulated it came as a result of constipation.

The legend is partially true. He had been in the bathroom when the paramedics arrived, and was passed out on the floor with his pajama bottoms below his knees. And constipation may well have been one of just many health ailments that plagued him in his midlife.

The paramedics hefted him onto a stretcher, but didn’t hold out much hope that he would be revived. Again, someone in the room mentioned that he had likely OD’d, but no one offered up any medications, prescription or otherwise.

During later investigations of his death, it was discovered that his personal doctor had prescribed him an array of painkillers and sedatives such as cocaine hydrochloride, Demerol, Quaalude, and Dilaudid. Still, his autopsy showed no signs of Dilaudid in his body.

What his autopsy did uncover was that his colon was extremely large and distended — signs of chronic constipation.

As if his death hadn’t been humiliating enough, when his body was wheeled into the morgue, the attendant discovered a reporter with a camera hiding under a sheet on another table. Pretending to be a corpse himself, the reporter had been waiting to try to snap a photo of Presley’s dead body.

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England. She's currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Hippocampus Magazine, The Atlantic, The Mary Sue, and Quartz.
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