MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Elvis Presley ignored doctors' warnings that he was flirting with death from drug abuse, saying he had to have drugs to 'go wild' on stage and to relax afterward, a jury was told Wednesday.
Presley was swollen from head to foot, his colon was paralyzed from drugs, and he was lying in a hospital bed when he discussed his drug use with doctors, witnesses said.
Dr. George Nichopoulos, Presley's doctor of 11 years, is on trial on 11 felony counts of overprescribing addictive drugs to Presley, singer Jerry Lee Lewis, and seven other patients.
The defense presented witnesses who testified that Presley would fly out of town in the wee hours of the morning to get drugs or have them shipped to him when Nichopoulos refused to prescribe them.
They also told of finding a 'three-suiter' suitcase packed with drugs in Presley's California home and of elaborate measures taken to substitute harmless placebos for hard drugs.
There also was testimony that Presley was 'incoherent' and remained in his room for a week after flying to Palm Springs, Calif., to see a physician, and about a drug argument between Nichopouls and Presley that led to the singer firing a pistol.
Dr. Larry Wruble, a specialist in internal medicine, testified he served as a consultant during the hospitalizations of Presley in October of 1973, in January and February of 1975, and in August and September of 1975.
'He (Presley) was as swollen from the top of his head to bottom of his toes as anyone I have ever seen,' when he was admitted to Baptist Hospital in 1973, Wruble said.
Presley's condition was much the same during subsequent hospitalizations, Wruble said, and he and Nichopoulos agreed they would 'have to read the riot act to him.'
Wruble said Presley had 'an interesting response' when told he must stop abusing drugs.
'He asked me whether I had ever seen his show,' Wruble said. Wruble said although he had never seen Presley perform, he told Presley he had.
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'Elvis Presley would buzz me when he couldn't sleep,' Strada said, adding that he told the singer he was taking too many pills.
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Wruble said he told Presley in Nichopoulos' presence 'if he continued to take uppers, downers and that kind of thing, I unequivocally told him this would kill him.'
Al Strada, who first went to work for Presley in the early 1970s in California as a security guard and later became the singer's personal aide, testified about the lengths Presley went to to obtain drugs and efforts of Nichopoulos and Presley's staff to control them.
Estrada said he was present in Asheville, N.C., when Nichopoulos and Presley argued over Nichopoulos' refusal to give the singer drugs. Estrada said Presley pointed a small caliber pistol at Nichopoulos, veered the weapon away, and fired it. He said the bullet ricocheted off of a television set and struck Nichopoulos.
Defense attorney James F. Neal asked about other occasions when Nichopoulos refused to give Presley drugs.
'If Dr. Nichopoulos wouldn't give him the medication he wanted we'd pick up and leave to go to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas,' Strada said.
He told the jury about two specific trips to Palm Springs.
On the first, he said, Presley rounded up a small group of aides at 3 a.m. to fly to California. Shortly after they arrived, Strada said, a physician, not identified, came to Presley's home. After seeing the physician 'Elvis remained in his room completely incoherent for a week,' Strada said.
On the second trip, Strada said, a Las Vegas doctor flew to Palm Springs where Presley was staying.
'This physician decided to put Elvis on a diet (consisting only of fruit juice) and keep him asleep for three weeks,' Strada said. 'Elvis was very incoherent. He looked like he was going to die out there.'
Strada said he called Nichopoulos, who instructed him to fly Presley back to Memphis for hospitalization.
Neal asked Strada if he had occasion to see large bottles of sleeping pills in Presley's room.
'Yes, in his bedroom on the nightstand. He kept several bottles of medicine,' Strada said.
'Before Dr. Nichopoulos came around, did you actually see Mr. Presley taking sleeping pills?' Neal asked.
'Yes, I would assist him putting on his pajamas or laying them out for him. He would take four to five capsules with a glass of water and then fall asleep,' Strada said.
Strada said Presley would still wake up several times during the night and take more medication.
Strada told of finding a 'three-suiter suitcase' packed with drugs in Presley's California home in 1974. He said he flushed the drugs down the toilet at the instructions of Joe Esposito, Presley's road manager.
'How long did it take (to dispose of the drugs)?' Neal asked.
'Roughly an hour,' Strada said.
Strada told the jury he first discussed Presley's drug problems with Nichopoulos after Presley's 1973 hospitalization.
He said Nichopoulos told him to begin administering the medication to Presley in amounts Nichopoulos prescribed. These amounts, Strada said, were 'much, much less' than Presley had been receiving.
Strada said he took over the task for awhile but it became too much for him.
'Elvis Presley would bug me when he couldn't sleep,' Strada said, adding that he told the singer he was taking too many pills.
'At this point he (Presley) told me off completely,' Strada said. 'He told me he was a grown man and could take care of his own medication.'
At the time, Strada said, Presley was so groggy from drugs that he could not open a bottle of medication. He said he opened the bottle for Presley and walked out. By the time he had arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Presley was calling him on an in-house telephone to apologize, Strada said.
Strada said he told Nichopoulos he 'couldn't handle it anymore' and Nichopoulos arranged for a nurse, Tish Henley, to live on the grounds at Graceland, Presley's Memphis mansion, and administer the medication.
Strada said he became concerned when he saw the nurse passing packets of medicine to Presley, intercepted them, substituted placebos, and notified Nichopoulos. He said Nichopoulos told him his efforts were unnecessary, that the nurse was giving Presley fake drugs, and that Strada was 'breaking down a placebo and making another placebo.'
Strada testified he carried a bottle of saline in his pants at all times and intercepted and destroyed drugs that came to Presley through the mail or were shipped to him at the Memphis airport.
'How many capsules would you say you destroyed,' Neal asked.
'Thousands,' Strada replied.