Image: A fan’s purse featuring the image of Elvis Presley lies on a bar table during the four-day Collingwood Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario July 25, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/Files
By Bill Trott
REUTERS – George Nichopoulos, known as “Dr. Nick” as he dispensed thousands of doses of prescription drugs to Elvis Presley in the final decade of the rock star’s life, has died at the age of 88, a Memphis, Tennessee, funeral home said.
Memorial Park Funeral Home, which posted an obit of Nichopoulos online, did not indicate the cause of death on Wednesday.
Nichopoulos, who was stripped of his medical license 18 years after Presley’s 1977 death, was a valuable member of the Presley camp and accompanied him on tour.
Nichopoulos met Presley in 1967 when he treated him for saddle sores suffered from horseback riding. He realized Presley had an irrational approach to drugs the next time he treated the singer, who had taken a week’s worth of medication in one day for tonsillit’s.
As Presley’s drug consumption continued in the 1970s, he suffered overdoses and acted erratically. Nichopoulos provided him with painkillers such as Quaalude, Demerol, codeine, Percodan, Dilaudid, as well as a variety of stimulants and sedatives.
Presley, a notorious insomniac, often called Nichopoulos in the middle of the night to get drugs. The doctor would typically comply with a prescription that another Presley associate would rush to an all-night pharmacy. According to Joel Williamson’s book “Elvis Presley: A Southern Life,” such a scenario played out about 12 hours before Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.
The cause of death was listed as cardiac arrhythmia but considering his history and a finding showing Presley had 14 drugs in his system, the medical examiner’s ruling set off talk of a cover-up. Many Elvis fans blamed Nichopoulos for the death and the doctor received death threats.
The Tennessee medical board suspended Nichopoulos’ license for three months in 1980 and a year later he was tried and acquitted of overprescribing for Presley, fellow rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and others. He testified his plan was to control his patients’ usage and eventually wean them.
Testimony from Nichopoulos’ trial showed he prescribed 19,000 doses for Presley in his final 31-1/2 months, but the doctor said some were for members of the Presley entourage.
He testified that Presley’s drug regimen while on tour included 10 medications when he awoke in the afternoon, seven more an hour before a show, a shot of caffeine or a caffeine placebo immediately before show time, five drugs after the show and bedtime sedatives.
Nichopoulos’ medical license was revoked permanently by the board in 1995 for a pattern of overprescribing drugs.
“No one understands that Elvis was so complicated,” Nichopoulos said in a 2009 interview with the Daily Beast website. “I worked so hard just to keep things together and then they turned the tables on me after he died and decided I was to blame.
“… I was one of his closest friends. At times I was his father, his best friend, his doctor. Whatever role I needed to play at the time, I did.”
(Writing and reporting by Bill Trott in Washington; Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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