Nichopoulos describes Elvis' drug addiction

Dec. 16, 1981
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CHICAGO -- The doctor who was acquitted of illegally prescribing drugs to Elvis Presley says the late singer was addicted to pills for more than a decade and often had to be treated 'like a little boy.'

Dr. George Nichopoulos, interviewed in the current issue of American Medical News, an American Medical Association publication, said Presley was already addicted to prescription drugs when he became his patient in 1965.

'Elvis was always a difficult patient, whether he was on drugs or not,' Nichopoulos said. 'Sometimes he would act like a little boy... and you would have to treat him like a little boy.'

Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, in Memphis. Although the Shelby county medical examiner ruled heart disease to have been the cause of death, Nichopoulos said an autopsy found traces of 11 types of drugs in his body.

'Only two of the drugs in Elvis' blood were prescribed by me,' said Nichopoulos, who was threatened with the loss of his license by subsequent revelations of the popular singer's drug abuse problem.

Nichopoulos was found innocent in November on 11 counts of criminally overprescribing addictive drugs to Presley, singer Jerry Lee Lewis and seven other patients.

He recently resumed practicing medicine in Memphis, but admitted in the interview his professional and personal affairs are 'in a shambles.'

Nichopoulos said he tried to have Presley detoxified twice without longterm success. He said he hoped to try to wean him off drugs by gaining his trust, but never did so.

The doctor recalled an incident in Presley's dressing room just prior to a concert in in Asheville, N.C. The singer, his father and Nichopoulos were present. Nichopoulos said Presley asked repeatedly for some drugs and he refused to deliver them.

Presley produced a pistol, wrapped his arm around his father's leg and fired a shot that richocheted around the room. The spent cartridge slapped against Nichopoulos' chest, the doctor said.

On another occasion, Nichopoulos said Presley convinced a dentist to give him some drug samples.

'I guess the dentist wanted to impress Elvis, so he said, 'Sure.' When I found out, I took the samples away,' Nichopoulos said.

'Elvis was a firm believer there was a medicine for everything,' he said, adding Presley kept a personal copy of Physician's Desk Reference, a guide to prescription drugs.

'You know how some people will sneeze and think they need a pill, or get a muscle cramp and want relief, or go to the dentist and need a pain-killer. Others aren't bothered. Elvis was convinced he needed drugs.'

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