Elvis Had Bipolar...and Many Other Things

Elvis Presley was a serious germaphobe. But he helped the nation rid itself of polio by publicly receiving the vaccine. Just like many people didn’t trust the covid vaccine in 2021, they didn’t trust Salk’s polio vaccine in 1956.  

According to ex-wife Priscilla, Elvis never liked to go to people's homes to eat because he didn't like eating with other people's silverware, so he would take his own silverware. And he didn't like drinking out of cups that other people had  drunk out of, even restaurants or other homes. So when he drank, he would drink where the handle was, knowing that no one would ever drink at that side. 

It’s likely that Elvis had bipolar disorder. As a possible member of the Bipolar Team, was Elvis a creative genius? He never wrote a single song. His movies were cookie cutter.  Manager “Colonel” Tom Parker virtually created the legend. But Elvis was much more talented at instruments than his self-effacing comments gave himself credit for.  He was clever in how he interpreted songs in new ways. He performed a mixture of gospel, soul, blues, country, and rock and roll. Famous musicians didn’t know what to make of his sound. And his stage presence was larger than life. He was a creative genius in many ways. And the young Elvis had boundless energy.

Elvis’s habits for sex, drugs, alcohol, and wild spending all suggest bipolar. He died at 42, and tragedy has followed his family, as it does in so many families where the disorder is present. Elvis battled depression frequently and feared being alone.

Elvis’s sexual appetites were the stuff of legend. Some chalk his preference for teenagers to mommy issues. Or to his insecurities. Elvis was devoted to his mother Gladys, but the relationship seemed to be smothering. It may have been that he saw young women as the antithesis of his stifling and controlling mother. And his coterie of friends and bodyguards known as the “Memphis Mafia” seemed to be the brothers he never had.  The loss of Elvis’s twin at birth may have drawn his mother closer to him.  As may have the incarceration of Elvis’s father Vernon. 

Wife Priscilla was 14 when they met. He was ten years older. She always felt that she could not compete with Elvis’s affection for Gladys. Elvis made no serious attempt to be faithful. Elvis apparently preferred young virgins who would not be critical of his lack of proficiency in the bedroom. It was a lack of proficiency that would be confirmed by Cybil Shepard and other girlfriends. His drug and alcohol consumption would compound his libido issues.

The King eschewed illegal drugs, although he was known to have tried marijuana and cocaine. He even received a narcotics agent badge from President Nixon. But it was legal prescription drugs that would be his problem. As with so many high energy performers, he needed amphetamines to get “up” and then barbiturates to come down. Colonel Parker had him on a crazy schedule of performances. His physician, George Nichopoulos, known as "Dr. Nick," turned him into an opiate addict over a period of several years. Dr. Nick survived being indicted, but his medical license would eventually be suspended. 

Drug use ran in the Presley family. Gladys didn’t make it past her forties. She fussed and stressed over her son’s fame. She drank excessively and took massive quantities of sleeping pills. Elvis kept heaping gifts on her, but she just wanted her boy to stay home. She was afraid of his touring. She didn’t want him flying. She didn’t want him driving. Elvis’s induction into the Army sent her into a tailspin from which she wouldn’t recover. She died shortly thereafter. Grandfather J.D. Presley was a hard-drinking brawler and womanizer.

Elvis’s progeny carried on the tradition. It’s hard to tell if daughter Lisa Marie’s problems were more due to her circumstances or due to genetics. That’s often the case with bipolar inheritance. Parents with bipolar disorder don’t always offer their children the optimal environment in which to grow up. But Lisa Marie’s upbringing was most unusual, as one can imagine. The famous father, her parents’ divorce when she was four, her father’s death when she was nine, the media attention, the money — all these things had a deep impact on her. Her mother’s boyfriend reportedly abused her sexually from the time she was 12 to when she was 15.

Lisa Marie’s drug use was extensive as a young woman, and she suffered through a string of failed marriages, first to musician Danny Keough, then Michael Jackson, actor Nicolas Cage, and music producer Michael Lockwood. She’s made several trips in and out of rehab and has battled her demons throughout her life. She’s also embraced Scientology and given many hours and money to philanthropic and humanitarian causes.  

 As if Lisa Marie’s life hasn’t been difficult enough, her son Benjamin Keough committed suicide at age 27 by shooting himself. The common narrative is that Benjamin felt an enormous need to live up to his grandfather’s success. Maybe, but he never knew his grandfather and didn’t share his name. He did inherit his grandfather’s good looks and apparently some musical talent. He had his own struggles with drugs and alcohol, which he blamed on Scientology. He had cocaine and alcohol in his system when he committed suicide.

And then there was Elvis’s wild spending. Elvis bought houses, Cadillacs, and guns for friends and relatives. Many guns. He gifted them to others and maintained quite a collection himself.  It included a gold-plated .45 automatic pistol,  a pocket-sized Derringer, an AK-47, and a Thompson submachine gun. He regularly carried a .25 caliber pistol in his boot. Elvis owned 38 firearms at the time of his death. A highly decorated .37 magnum of his sold at auction for $195,500 in 2017. Once, when he was annoyed by Robert Goulet’s singing, he put a bullet in the television screen. The television sits in an exhibit across the street from Elvis’s Graceland home. But there were other televisions and other annoying singers. Elvis shot at Mel Tormei and Frank Sinatra. A malfunctioning television he shot sold for $4000 in 2018.

When Elvis made his iconic photo-producing trip to visit President Nixon in the White House, he brought his C olt .45 pistol and display case to present to Nixon. He never made it past the Secret Service with the firearm. Of concern were the six silver bullets in the case. The pistol is now in the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, California. 

Elvis fed his obsession with Cadillac automobiles. He began by giving one to his mother who didn’t drive. Then to a backup singer. One day he purchased 32 Cadillacs, which he gave away that day. He gave Cadillacs to employees and even complete strangers. He owned several himself, His first one was a used pink Cadillac. He purchased it in 1955 to tour around in. His collection would also include several Lincolns, Rolls Royces, a BMW, a Mercedes, a Ferrari, a Ford Thunderbird, and a Ford Mustang. While in the Army in Germany, Elvis was chauffeured around in a Lincoln Continental Mark V. By the time he purchased the Ferrari in 1975, his considerable girth made it uncomfortable.

Elvis could replenish his funds when they dwindled by booking concerts, recording another album, or making another film. His ability to generate revenue was extraordinary.  But his expenditures were extraordinary. Maintaining Graceland was a burden.

Elvis made hundreds of millions of dollars in his career, but his estate was only worth about $5 million when he died. Colonel Parker had taken much of Elvis’s earnings. Priscilla is credited with turning the finances around to the point where Lisa Marie would be handed a $100 million estate. (Lisa Marie mismanaged the estate to a value of a few thousand dollars.)  With royalties, souvenir sales, and Graceland tours, Elvis has brought in more revenue since his death than some superstar musicians make while they’re alive!

What killed Elvis were mostly the drugs. But his diet certainly didn’t help. It’s not just women who suffer from bulimia. Elvis did also. His eating disorder was complicated. He had a voracious and peculiar appetite. He was particularly fond of butter-fried sandwiches with banana, peanut butter, and bacon inside. He wolfed down cheeseburgers. He went six months eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes every day. His daily caloric intake got as high as 100,000 calories. 

Elvis’s weight issues brought on crash diets. He tried the “Sleeping Beauty diet” that involved a drug-induced coma so he wouldn’t eat so much. He did not work with a nutritionist or pursue therapy, as so many famous performers now do. He had diabetes, hypertension, and chronic constipation. 

Between the drugs and the diet, Elvis’s heart exploded as he sat on the toilet, struggling with an opiate-induced bout of constipation. A postmortem examination found his colon contained 30 pounds of impacted stool, indicating that he had suffered from constipation for four months. 

The King died on the throne. His girlfriend discovered him with his pajama bottoms around his ankles and his buttocks facing upward. Along with the peanut butter and banana they found in his system, there was also morphine, Demerol, codeine, chlorpheniramine, Placidyl, Valium, ethinamate and Quaaludes. He weighed 350 pounds.

There is one thing that Elvis the King had in common with Nero the Emperor. Both inspired many impersonators. The first known Nero impersonator looked like Nero, sounded like Nero, and played the lyre. A provincial Roman governor had him put to death. Johnny Carson once said, “If life were fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”