His weight, which had always been a problem and something of an obsession, ballooned to over 235 pounds, but it was the bloated, puffy, and pale pallor that should have made
his drug dependency obvious to even the most naïve observer. But his drug use remained a secret until August 1977 when Elvis: What Happened? a “tell-all” compilation of the experiences of Red West, Sonny West and David Hebler “as told to” Steve Dunleavy was published. In Elvis: What Happened? the realities of his drug problems were made public alongside a series of revelations about his private life and personal problems. Red West had been close to Elvis since they were teenagers and Red’s cousin, Sonny, started to work for Elvis in 1960. Sonny West had accompanied Elvis with Jerry Schilling on the bizarre trip to the White House in 1970. On July 13, 1976 , Red West, Sonny West, and David Hebler, who were all working as bodyguards, were fired by Elvis’ father without warning or notice. Red and Sonny West had been with Elvis for sixteen years and Hebler since 1972. They suspected that they were fired because of their efforts to confront Elvis about his drug use. Shortly after their firing, they signed the book deal for Elvis: What Happened? Although the bodyguards insisted that they told their story in hopes that it would be a “wake-up call” for Elvis, many suspected it was born out of revenge for their firing. Steve Dunleavy also wrote the book as a sensationalist exposé with little regard for accuracy or its subject, which further injured the book’s credibility. Elvis knew of the book and had read portions of it after the publisher sent an advance copy to him prior to publication. As Peter Guralnick wrote in Careless Love: The Decline of Elvis Presley , he read the book with “alternating waves of rage and shame.” The Final Chapter
If Red and Sonny West and David Hebler had indeed hoped that Elvis: What Happened? would help Elvis, their hopes were not to be realized. In the early morning hours of August 17, 1977 after singing a few gospel songs and Roy Acuff’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” at the piano in Graceland, Elvis went upstairs with Ginger Alden and took the first of three packets of sleeping pills, anti-depressants, and placebos prescribed for him by “Dr. Nick.” A few hours later he took the second and around 7:00 AM the third. Ginger awoke at 1:30 PM and found Elvis lying face down in a pool of vomit on the bathroom floor, his pajamas around his ankles. There were repeated attempts to revive Elvis at Graceland, in the ambulance, and, finally, by a team of doctors in Trauma Room Number 1 at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. Finally, at 3:30 PM, Dr. George Nichopoulos met with the family, who were waiting in Trauma Room Number 2, and told them, simply, “It’s over. He’s gone.” The King of Rock and Roll was dead.
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