How Did Elvis Die? The Details Behind Elvis Presley’s Death

how did elvis die elvis presley's death elvis movies
Portrait of Elvis Presley printed at the time he was leaving to join the army in 1958. Image by Unknown Author and is part of the public domain.

Last updated on September 7th, 2023 at 01:44 am

Elvis Aaron Presley, the king of rock n’ roll, was one of the most dynamic performers of the 20th century. He had dozens of legendary Billboard Hot 100 hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Jailhouse Rock,” and was also well-known for his legendary stage show. His acting skills are also underrated.

Unfortunately, the talented performer met an untimely demise.

What was Elvis Presley’s cause of death? How did Elvis die? Find out the whole story of Elvis Presley’s death in this article.

How did Elvis die?

Elvis Presley’s cause of death was cardiac arrest (heart attack).

Though the chief medical examiner who took the initial autopsy said that “drugs played no role in Presley’s death,” that was at best misleading, as you’ll find out.

elvis presley at the white house in 1970
Image is in the Public Domain.

When Did Elvis Die?

Elvis Presley’s death happened on the afternoon of August 16, 1977.  

How Old was Elvis When he Died?

Elvis was 42 years old when he passed away. 

Where is Elvis Buried?

The “That’s Alright Mama” singer is buried at his famous home, Graceland. 

Initially, he was buried at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee, but it had to be moved because there was an attempt to steal his coffin.

Related: The Life and Music of Elvis Presley

What Happened Before Elvis Died?

Before Elvis’ death, he had been physically deteriorating for some time. This especially ramped up during his last 20 months. 

He was overweight and took a daily cocktail of drugs, which included codeine, painkillers, multiple tranquilizers, and Valium. He was still performing, but his concerts were short and he was often erratic.

In the years before Elvis Presley’s death, he often spent his free time at his Graceland home, where he ate excessively, read voraciously, and watched TV.

The Day Elvis Died

On August 16, 1977, Elvis was scheduled to take an evening flight to Portland, Maine, to begin a tour. He’d never make the flight.

In the early afternoon, Elvis’ girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found him not breathing on the floor in the bathroom. She called the paramedics, but they couldn’t revive him, and he was pronounced deceased at 3:30 pm at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. 

Related: Ginger Alden: Elvis’ Final Love

elvis presley singing on stage in 1973
Elvis Presley in 1973. Image is in the Public Domain.

Did Drugs Play a Part in Elvis’ Death?

Though Elvis Presley’s cause of death was cardiac arrest, it is speculated that the drugs he was taking played a role in his untimely demise. It’s said that, at the height of his drug use, he carried three suitcases of drugs for himself and his entourage.

Two lab reports were done in the wake of Elvis’ death, and one showed that he had 14 different drugs in his system, including 10 in a substantial quantity. 

He also had an enlarged heart, which put him at a greater risk of death due to his excessive drug use. 

Elvis’ physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, was charged with 11 felony counts of overprescribing drugs, but he was acquitted.

So, while he technically didn’t die of a drug overdose, Elvis Presley’s death likely had something to do with drug use. 

Related: 32 Interesting Facts About Elvis Presley

Did Elvis Commit Suicide?

Though, as the New York Times reported, Elvis’ stepbrother once alleged that he killed himself, this has not been substantiated. 

Who Inherited Elvis’ Money?

After Elvis Presley’s death, his money went to three people he was survived by: his daughter, Lisa Marie, his father Vernon, and his grandmother Minnie. 

Somewhat surprisingly, Elvis’ will left nothing to his then-girlfriend Ginger Alden.

Vernon and Minnie were both dead by 1980, which made Lisa Marie the final heir of Elvis’ estate, though Vernon made Elvis’ first wife, Priscilla, his successor after his death.

Unfortunately, Lisa Marie ended up losing much of what she received in Elvis’ will, though his home of Graceland was always preserved. 

Related: How Did Lisa Marie Die?

What Were Elvis’ Last Words?

Nobody was with there when Elvis Presley died, so we’ll never know his last words. Some claim that they were “I’m sorry, I love you,” spoken to his ex-wife Priscilla, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

It is known, though, that in the moments before his death, he was reading A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, a book about the Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth of Jesus. 

It is said that in the years before Elvis Presley’s death, he read a lot of books on spirituality. 

Related: 17 Best Elvis Songs

elvis presley meeting president nixon
Elvis meeting president Nixon. Image is in the Public Domain.

Was Lisa Marie at Elvis’ Funeral?

Yes, Lisa Marie Presley was at Elvis’ funeral, which took place at Elvis’ estate, Graceland.

Though Elvis’ daughter chose not to look at her father in the casket, she did give Robert Kendall, the Funeral Director, a small bracelet to place with her father.

Due to the fear of it getting stolen, Elvis’ first wife and Lisa Marie’s mom Priscilla ordered that it be placed under his shirt. 

The gesture from Elvis’ beautiful daughter Lisa Marie was certainly the most touching moment at Elvis’ funeral.

Related: Priscilla Presley: Her Crazy Life as Wife of the King

What Happened to Priscilla Presley After Elvis Died?

Priscilla Presley soldiered on bravely after the death of her ex-husband, doing a lot to continue his legacy.

This included everything from keeping Graceland open and viable to her work on the 2022 biopic about Elvis, Elvis, starring Austin Butler.

Related: 10 Best Elvis Movies

Who Owns Graceland Now?

After the untimely death of Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie Presley, ownership of Graceland was transferred by a judge in Los Angeles to her daughter, actress Riley Keough.

Related: Danny Keough: Lisa Marie Presley’s Famous Husband

Elvis Presley’s Legacy

Though he has been deceased for almost 50 years, Elvis’ legacy lives on in his music and career. His music is still popular, and his estate, Graceland, is a popular tourist attraction. Elvis impersonators perform across the world.

Elvis’ impact on music and culture will always be felt. He was truly one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. 

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Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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