There’s something totally magical about sitting in a packed auditorium shrouded by thousands of your favorite star’s greatest fans. It’s all music, lights, and revelry when the celebrity appears on the stage and the crowd roars with delight. Throughout the concert, the energy is high, and you wish the night could last forever.
Demanding schedules, pressure to perform, and constant scrutiny more accurately paints a picture of the flip side of being a celebrity. It’s not surprising that superstardom comes with a high level of stress and exhaustion. Like many other superstars, Elvis Presley took drugs to help him cope with the arduous demands of being the King of Rock and Roll, before his health concerns led to his death in 1977.
What was drug addiction treatment like in the 1970’s? Could today’s addiction programs have saved his life?
The Pressure of Stardom and Its Price
From 1969 to 1977, Elvis’ manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, subjected Elvis to a grueling schedule of performing on stage every other day. If that was not exhausting enough, Elvis had a contract with RCA Records to record three albums a year. As Elvis exited the stage after a brilliant and satisfying encore, he barely had time to slump into a chair. Beyond the glitz, glam, and adoring fans, the stage hands were packing the bus for a road trip to the next city on tour.
Offstage, Elvis faced even more pressure. The tabloids created a relentless buzz of stories that were scathing or ludicrous or both. The music critics gave merciless reviews, and the paparazzi pursued him doggedly. Sheer exhaustion led Elvis to seek ways to cope with the stress of being “The King.” He found his coping strategy in prescription drugs.
The Rise of Drug Experimentation During the 60’s and 70’s
The 60’s and 70’s s became the era of drug experimentation. LSD, opiates and heroin were the drugs of choice. While Elvis was sweeping fans off their feet with singable tunes and swooning ballads, other popular bands sang the truth of a new social phenomenon—street drugs. Jimi Hendrix made a hit with Purple Haze. In his song, Rainy Day Women, Bob Dylan sang, “But I would not feel so all alone, everybody must get stoned,” to name a couple.
Prescription drug abuse was also on the rise during the 60’s and 70’s. If one pill made you feel good; more made you feel even better. Like Elvis, some people believed that any drugs that you could get from doctors couldn’t possibly be harmful.
Whether the superstars of the 60’s and 70’s got their drugs from the dealer on the corner, or from their trusted physician, many of them fell into a rotating cycle of managing stress with euphoria-inducing pills, failing to learn that drug addiction is a disease that progressively gets worse.
Treatment Options for Drug Addiction During the 60’s and 70’s
Into the 1970’s, drug addiction grabbed onto many of the social drug experimenters and held on tightly. With the death toll of street-drug users rising, drug addiction facilities sprang up to treat people who were addicted to the most popular street drugs—opiates and heroin.
During that time, people didn’t equate prescription drug abuse with street drug abuse, so there were paltry few options available for people who got hooked on prescription medications—people like Elvis.
As Elvis rose to stardom, he began to take “uppers” to get himself going, and “downers” after performances to help him relax and sleep. He became addicted by the early 1970’s. His autopsy showed ten different drugs in his body at the time of his death.
Fame and fortune helped Elvis to stay addicted. Over time, he became something of a master at manipulating the medical community so he could support his habit. When doctors in his hometown of Memphis turned him down for prescription drugs, he turned to doctors in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, or Los Angeles. When the drugs proved more difficult to get, he resorted to toting around a copy of The Physician’s Desk Reference, an encyclopedia of legal drugs and their uses. The manual guided him toward what symptoms he needed to have, to get certain prescription drugs.
Several times during the 1970’s, Elvis entered the hospital for detoxification. While doctors helped rid Elvis’ body from overdoses of prescription drugs, they missed the opportunity to treat the addictive habits that led to a relapse.
Would Today’s Drug Treatment Options Have Kept Elvis Alive?
It’s impossible to know for certain if Elvis would be alive today if he’d received appropriate treatment for his drug addiction. What is certain, is that there are more drug treatment programs and more types of drug treatment options available now, than there were during his lifetime. We now recognize prescription drug addiction as a progressive disease, in which people need targeted treatment.
Today, drug addicts can choose from a range of treatment options including drug treatment centers, hospital programs, support groups, accountability programs, counseling, and more. Today’s society places greater awareness on the dangers of drug use. Schools educate youth on the dangers of drug addiction. Communities help with the offer referrals for drug treatment through:
- Law enforcement
Priscilla Presley’s Perspective on Drug Treatment
Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, is an actress, best-selling author, producer and entrepreneur. Since Elvis’ death, she became an advocate for drug-free living. Priscilla, is also a noted Scientologist, a controversial entity that calls itself a religion. Scientology is closely linked to a drug treatment center called Narconon, which has also had its share of controversy. At the second anniversary of Narconon, Priscilla Presley publicly stated that she believed a program like Narconon, would have cured Elvis. She believes that the center’s hope-centered focus would have drawn Elvis to participate in their treatment.
Lisa Marie Presley’s Drug Addiction
Elvis’s only child, Lisa Marie Presley, has also had problems with drug addiction and alcoholism. Like her father, her drug of choice is prescription pain killers. Unlike her father, Lisa Marie does not disguise her problems with substance abuse and openly seeks treatment when she needs it. In 2016, she checked into a Treatment Center in Los Angeles. The facility was a private center that has no connections to Scientology. The facility in Los Angeles was a 12 step facility similar to Advanced Health and Education (https://www.advhealth.com) in Eatontown New Jersey. Advanced Health uses an evidence-based approach and surely would have been beneficial to Elvis if he’d chosen to go and would have been available when he needed help.
Elvis’ voice was, and still is, unmistakable. If that wasn’t enough on its own, he was tall, dark and undeniably handsome. He’ll be forever known as the first performer that Ed Sullivan insisted be filmed from the waist up, to avoid controversy over publicizing his gyrating hips. Elvis was what we would call today, “the total package.”
With such golden talent, if he were still alive, the demands of his career wouldn’t have gone away. Perhaps he would have continued to seek out drugs from physicians, or street dealers if that failed, to help him deal with the stress and exhaustion that accompanies being the King of Rock and Roll. What is different today is that if he went to the hospital for detoxification, they would have linked him to resources to help him deal with his addiction. If not from the hospital, he may have found drug treatment options from a church, a clinic, the police, or a trusted family member or friend.
Today, he would have a better chance of finding treatment for his addiction that worked. Being free from drugs may have allowed him the clarity of mind to take charge of his own schedule, and find some balance between his personal life and the adoration of his enormous fan base. If Elvis were alive today, we could reasonably expect that his addiction would have left the building.