“Elvis is alive.” We’ve heard this refrain for years. It is a well-traveled companion of popular culture. The notion that Elvis faked his death is as ubiquitous as claims that a giant-headed alien was subjected to an autopsy at Roswell or that Sasquatch roams the forests of any number of
locales around the world. It is so ubiquitous, in fact, that many people simply assume that there are facts and figures to support the idea. So what are the actual facts? What is the basis of the debate? Is it really possible that Elvis faked his death and went into hiding only to reveal himself through various means many years later?
The answer is a resounding no. There are no facts to support the theory that Elvis faked his death, and the debate itself is not valid. It is time to set the record straight and properly frame the issue because this faulty debate has gone on far too long. Many Elvis fans are tired of it, the tabloids seem to have become tired of it, and certainly the Presley family has heard enough about it.
Let’s begin our look at the “Elvis is alive” debate with a stroll through Dealey Plaza, where in November 1963 one of the most complex, evidence-based debates in history was born.
The Texas School Book Depository still stands today on the corner of Elm and N. Houston Streets in Dallas, Texas. On November 22, 1963, bullets allegedly fired from the sixth floor of the Depository pierced the late autumn air and changed the course of history. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. The facts were quickly assembled, disseminated, and written in the history books. Oswald did it; no question about it. But then came the questions and the alternate fact patterns. Could Oswald really have accomplished such a feat of marksmanship? What about the eyewitnesses who saw smoke and heard gunshots from the infamous “grassy knoll” on the northwest side of the plaza? What is fact, what is rumor, and what is strictly fiction? The debate continues to this day, but the debate is nonetheless based on the evidence and on one’s interpretation of that evidence. Thus, facts guide the debate and help to illustrate the shades of gray that comprise its mosaic.
Heading about 450 miles northeast to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, it’s August 16, 1977, and Elvis Presley’s lifeless body is discovered on the bathroom floor of his upstairs bedroom suite. An ambulance is summoned, and the paramedics, failing to resuscitate the victim, deliver the body to the Emergency Department at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Approximately thirty minutes later, Elvis Presley is pronounced dead, ostensibly from cardiac arrhythmia and heart disease. The ultimate finding from Shelby County medical examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco will baffle some people, and the cause of death will be debated and deconstructed for many years, but there will be no question that a death did in fact occur until a few years later.
Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Elvis “conspiracy” was introduced and propagated as a parallel debate alongside the cause-of-death debate. On one side was the cardiac arrhythmia vs. drug overdose debate. On the other side was the alive vs. dead debate and the faked death vs. actual death debate. The claims and allegations were amassed and became part of the Elvis lexicon: his middle name is misspelled on the gravestone, so Elvis must be sending us a message that he is alive; Elvis’s voice was recorded during a phone call to Gail Brewer-Giorgio, the godmother of the Elvis-is-alive underground; Elvis’s Lloyds of London life insurance policy was never cashed, meaning the estate did not want to commit insurance fraud after Elvis faked his death; and myriad other small bits of information that were woven into the fact pattern. Together, the “Alivers” contend, these pieces of information indicate that Elvis Presley faked his death.
In 2009, we are at the point where the Elvis-is-alive debate needs to be reassessed and then eliminated altogether. The reality is that there are no facts or figures to suggest, prove, or indicate that Elvis Presley faked his death. For more than two decades, the conspiracy debate has been framed as a battle between the “facts” to support a faked death and the “facts” to support an actual death. But the debate is not valid and can be boiled down to this: the “Alivers” have no facts, and their entire position is based on inaccuracy, faulty reasoning, and myth.
Let’s look at several primary pieces of so-called evidence used to support the notion that Elvis faked his death.
The Spelling on the Gravestone
Alivers allege that because Elvis spelled his middle name with a single A (Aron), the misspelling of the name (as Aaron) on the gravestone has sinister implications. It’s true that Elvis spelled his middle name with a single A, as there are numerous examples of his signature where he signs the name “Elvis Aron Presley.” Later in his life, he supposedly wanted to change the spelling to the double-A version, and his estate offers a reasonable explanation for the double-A spelling on the gravestone. The point, though, is that this “evidence” so often cited by those who believe Elvis faked his death is not evidence at all. First, we really don’t know how Elvis spelled or wanted to spell his name at the end of his life, and we don’t know why Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father, chose the double-A spelling for the grave marker. Before anyone can comment on whether the misspelling indicates something is afoot, we must first establish that the name is, in fact, misspelled, and so far there is no conclusive evidence that it is. For the Alivers’ position, then, this is not a valid piece of evidence.
Elvis has supposedly been seen at various times and in various locations over the past twenty-five years or so. None of these sightings, however, has been proved to be that of Elvis Presley. The typical “sighting” has these, or a variation of these, components: The man had jet-black hair styled as Elvis had his in the 1970s; the man knew things only Elvis would know; the man made cryptic remarks about Elvis Presley, about Elvis’s family, and about Elvis’s death; the man acted in a suspicious manner, like he was trying to hide himself or was afraid of being seen; and the list goes on and on. Again, though, there is nothing to indicate that any of these sightings was of Elvis Presley post-August 1977. Thus, “Elvis sightings” are not valid pieces of evidence.
I would note that before the conspiracy talk began in the early 1980s, Elvis was never sighted after August 16, 1977. The only claim of someone seeing Elvis after the time of his death takes us to the Memphis International Airport where he was allegedly seen purchasing a ticket for travel to South America, but as I outline in my book Elvis Decoded, which addresses many of these conspiracy claims, there were no international tickets sold at the Memphis airport in August of 1977. Further, there is no one who can corroborate this claim, trace the claim, or give any insight into its origin. From my research, this ticket-purchasing tale has absolutely no basis in fact, so it appears that Elvis sightings began only after the conspiracy was introduced.
The Active Lloyds of London Insurance Policy
Alivers use this oft-cited claim to support the idea that Elvis faked his death, saying that since this insurance policy is still active, the Presley estate must have been aware that collecting on a life insurance policy when the policyholder is still alive is insurance fraud. Thus, the reasoning goes, Elvis must have faked his death; the active insurance policy tells us so. This theory is a glaring example of the Alivers simply not doing any research and regurgitating “talking points” year after year. The insurance policy in question was in fact never purchased and thus is neither active nor inactive (cashed). It never existed. This is yet another example of “evidence” cited by Alivers that is not evidence at all. It’s just a myth that no one who perpetuates the theory has ever bothered to investigate. Thus, the Lloyds of London insurance policy is not a valid piece of evidence.
The Replacement Body at Graceland
According to the “replacement body” theory, the dead body that was discovered at Graceland, delivered to the emergency room, autopsied, and ultimately buried at Graceland six weeks later (the casket had been placed in a mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis on August 18, 1977, the day of Elvis’s funeral) was donated as part of an elaborate death hoax. The Presley Commission, a group self-appointed to investigate Elvis’s death, outlined this strange theory in their 1995 publication “The Presley Report,” which was supposed to be an in-depth analysis of Elvis’s death but in reality was a piece of death-hoax propaganda (if there is such a thing).
The replacement body theory is wholly illogical on its face, but if one delves more deeply into the plot, it is quite obvious that there was not even a simulacrum of critical thinking applied to this narrative and that the originators of this claim didn’t properly analyze the data. To put it simply, the Presley Commission applied medical data to the body on the autopsy table (that they claim was the body of someone else) that was extracted from the medical charts of Elvis Presley when he was hospitalized several years earlier at Baptist Memorial Hospital. That is, they applied Elvis’s medical conditions to the body that they claim was not Elvis Presley. And to make matters worse, they incorrectly interpreted that data and reached faulty conclusions.
On this replacement body theory and on all subsequent conclusions that pertain to this theory as presented by the Presley Commission, we find that this is not a valid piece of evidence.
Elvis in Witness Protection
Another standard claim is that Elvis Presley was a Federal agent appointed by President Richard Nixon, and in this capacity his life was in danger and he had to “disappear.” This theory further provides that Elvis was part of a broad investigation by the FBI into a group called “The Fraternity,” which was involved in many complex criminal schemes, one of which was the illegal acquisition of one of Elvis’s personal airplanes. The investigation in question was called “Operation Fountain Pen” (OPFOPEN). The Alivers take this string of connected claims one step further, contending that Elvis had to go into hiding because of his damaging testimony against “The Fraternity” before a grand jury on August 15, 1977, which put his life in danger.
A proper reading of the facts, however, leads us to the following:
- Elvis was not a Federal agent. Nixon conferred on Elvis the status of “Special Assistant” for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and gave him the appropriate badge, but this was an honorary position and was in all likelihood an accommodating gesture on Nixon’s part. Elvis had volunteered his services as a Federal “agent-at-large,” and Nixon wanted to thank him in some way. Since such a title and position did not exist, however, Nixon did the next best thing: he appointed Elvis as an advisor of sorts. Badge in hand, Elvis returned to Memphis and proudly showed off his new acquisition. Did he ever assist or advise the BNDD? Of course not.
- Elvis did not testify in this case, though he may have testified had he not died during that particular time period. Vernon Presley, acting on Elvis’s behalf, was also involved in the OPFOPEN investigation—far more involved than Elvis was—and did testify via videotape before the grand jury.
- The grand jury was not seated, and no indictments were handed down on August 15, 1977, as the Alivers contend. The indictments against several members of “The Fraternity” were presented in October 1977, some two months later. If we remove the August 15, 1977, grand jury claim, then there is no foundation for the claim that Elvis had to disappear the following day, August 16, 1977.
- If Elvis Presley was in so much danger that he had to fake his own death and go into witness protection (why both?), we would have to ask the obvious question: Why wasn’t Vernon Presley also afforded Federal protection? After all, it was Vernon, not Elvis, who testified against “The Fraternity.” There isn’t any evidence that the Presley family was threatened in any way following Vernon’s recorded testimony.
The fact is, Elvis Presley was not a Federal agent, and he did not testify against this group of career criminals. As with the other examples above, the claim that Elvis had to “disappear” is not a valid piece of evidence, and the Alivers have created a tale of intrigue and suspense where none exists.
When all of this so-called evidence is added together, the Alivers contend that their case is strengthened. The reasoning is that while one piece of evidence on its own does not prove Elvis faked his death, the entire cumulative body of evidence does suggest—and to some does prove—that Elvis did not die as reported on August 16, 1977. However, if each piece of evidence cited has absolutely no value, what happens when it’s all added up? What happens when zero is added to zero? When all of the evidence is added up, the sum is still zero. There is simply no probative weight to any of the so-called evidence.
Returning to the comparison between the JFK-assassination debate and the “Elvis is alive” debate, we see that the former is focused on fact-based evidence, while the latter is based on an almost pathological misunderstanding of the data. There are voluminous facts and figures to debate when we look at how Kennedy was killed, and it is likely the strength and weight of the facts and the interpretations offered by both sides that keep the debate going after nearly forty-six years. This is not the case with the “evidence” in the “Elvis is alive” debate; this evidence is anecdotal at best and rises to no acceptable standard of evidence.
The body of evidence to support and prove that Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, on the other hand, is verifiable and unimpeachable. To wit, we have eyewitness statements from scores of Elvis’s family members, friends, and associates, as well as from others who saw the body from the time it was discovered on the bathroom floor through the closing of the casket following the funeral service two days later. In addition, we have the unbiased and disinterested statements and/or testimony from Elvis’s personal physician, the doctors on the autopsy team, the administration at Baptist Memorial Hospital, the emergency room personnel, the Shelby County medical examiner, the investigator from the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, the paramedics who responded to the emergency call, the staff at the Memphis Funeral Home, Dade County medical examiner Dr. Joseph Davis (who reviewed the autopsy materials in 1994), and the various guards and personnel who saw the body at Baptist Memorial Hospital and at the Memphis Funeral Home during the time period in question (the afternoon of August 16, 1977, through the afternoon of August 18, 1977).
Several years ago, another construct of the alive vs. dead debate was presented to me in the form of a question: “Can you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977?” How did the burden of proof get shifted to the side where all the direct and circumstantial evidence supports the fact that Elvis Presley did in fact die on August 16, 1977? By asking this question, the Alivers are attempting to prop up the debate as if they bear no burden to prove their claims. They are insinuating that if I cannot absolutely prove that Elvis Presley died, he must have faked his death. It’s a nice trick, but it doesn’t work. The burden of proof, by legal standards, lies with the person who makes the charge. When a person charges that Elvis Presley faked his death—a claim that defies all wisdom, logic, and documented information—the burden to prove that charge falls squarely on that person’s shoulders.
Furthermore, the person making the charge must not only establish positive evidence of his claim but must also negate the oppositional evidence. Have the Alivers negated the statements of eyewitnesses who saw Elvis’s body after he was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm that day? No, they have not. Have they negated the voluminous body of documentation pertaining to the death? No, they have not. Have they negated the statements, many taken under oath, from the physicians who conducted the autopsy on Elvis’s body? No, they have not.
If there are two opposing sides and one side has no facts and no evidence, can there be a valid debate? The answer is no, which is why the idea that Elvis faked his death should be erased from our collective consciousness. The debate itself is not valid.