"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Elvis, and Baptist Memorial Hospital...August 16, 1977

Bill E. Burk looks back at Elvis' stays in Baptist Memorial including that fateful day in August 1977

The very first time Elvis Presley checked into Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, hospital administrators knew that if he ever came back as a patient, special rules were going to have to be put into effect.

Elvis had broken a finger that day playing touch football. After the finger was set and his (writing) hand put in a cast, one of the nearby nurses asked him for an autograph.

"From that time one, we developed a routine for Elvis," said Maurice Elliott, then assistant administrator of BMH. "We set him up in a suite at the end of the hall of Baptist-Union East. It was actually two patient rooms, with one door leading into them.

Dr. George Nichopolous was Elvis' attending physician. He would call and say Elvis was coming in. "We would then put aluminum foil over the windows because Elvis liked to sleep into the afternoons. When he was a patient, we had to re-arrange a lot of schedules for his tests and X-rays.

"When Elvis arrived, they would take him up in a freight elevator to the 17th floor of Union East. Elvis would be put i one of the patient rooms; his entourage would occupy the other room. They set up a desk outside the hallway doors to screen anyone and everyone going in.

"If your name was not on that list, you did not get in." Elliott remembers one young girl coming down the hallway one day, barefooted, saying she had hitchhiked all the way from North Carolina to visit Elvis in the hospital.

"Her name wasn't on the list," he said. "She didn't get in." BMH assigned one nurse on each of the shifts to be solely responsible for Elvis. "Otherwise," Elliott grinned, "every nurse on the floor would have been performing every imagineable procedure on him."

Concerned that his hospital records, blood samples, etc, might get purloined by overzealous fans, the hospital concealed Elvis under the name Aaron Sivle -- Elvis Aaron spelled backwards. In addition to his suite, BMH also set up an additional room to store the flowers, teddy bears, fan mail, etc, that fans flooded Elvis with during his stays in the hospital.

"Mail, get-well cards would come in by the sacks," Elliott said. "Teddy bears, Bibles, all kinds of things would come from all over the world. I'd get calls at home from all over the world wanting to know how Elvis was doing."

Known for never wanting to sleep alone, Elvis had the hospital put in a second bed in the room he occupied and someone always slept in it when Elvis was sleeping. Elliott said Elvis and his entire entourage were always very polite and acted like everyday patients, giving no one any trouble.

"He ate hospital food and he would send out and get cheeseburgers and french fries," he said.

"When Elvis would check out, he would call his jeweler to come to the hospital with a simple case and he would make sure to give every nurse who had looked after him something nice from that case.

"We had a policy that our employees could not accept gratuities, but with Elvis, we had to look the other way."

Like when Elvis gave nurse Marian Cocke a Pontiac Bonneville. "He explained to her he would have given her a Cadillac, but he didn't think she could afford the upkeep," Elliott said.

Also, on departing, Elvis would have the flowers sent to him distributed to other patients on the floor.

"My mother was a fan of Elvis'," said Elliott. "She loved the Horatio Alger aspect of his life. I told him that and he wrote a note to her and sent it to her with a plant. She still has that note. And the plant is all grown up now." Elliott remembers a time when Vernon Presley was a patient and Elvis the visitor.

"I was struck by how emotional Elvis was; how worried he was about his dad. He was in tears," he said. Once, when Elvis collapsed in Las Vegas and was flown to BMH in Memphis, two female fans from England had flown to Las Vegas to see him in concert. When they learned he had been flown to Memphis, they flew in to pay their regards to him in the hospital. But when they reached that door to his suite, their names were not on the list, so they were not allowed inside.

"Ironic," said Elliott. "They had flown from England to Las Vegas to Memphis, back to England and never got to see him."

Elliott has memories of when Lisa Marie was born at BMH. "They came in. Elvis was wearing a powder blue suit, a blue shirt and a blue felt hat," he said. "Priscilla was wearing a pink miniskirt and had that big black bouffant hairdo.

"Lisa Marie was born with a full head of hair. She was a pretty baby. We set up a waiting room for Elvis in the OB doctors' lounge. They didn't like that very much. Elvis was nervous throughout the delivery. But if you thought Elvis was nervous, you should have seen Charlie Hodge. You would have thought it was Charlie's wife having a baby, he was so nervous.

(photo opposite copyright Bill E. Burk)

"When it came time to deliver, Priscilla didn't want to remove her false eyelashes, so they put a wet washcloth over her eyes.

"Priscilla stayed full time -- about three days then. And when she was ready to go home, there was one photographer waiting for them. One hearing this, she took a full hour for a hairdresser to do her hair upright. When we took her to the car, I looked up and I guess there was someone in every single window of that 20-story hospital looking down on them and waving.

"Elvis had special-ordered some cigars from overseas, all with yellow plastic tips. He was so nervous as they were leaving the hospital, he forgot to give them out. As he was getting into the car, he said, 'Oh, I forgot,' and handed me one of the cigars. I kept it for years, but I don't have it now."

Because Elvis didn't have an official public relations agent, when he was at BMH, the hospital had to interact with the press. "Doctor Nick would say he was being admitted for observation or that he was suffering from exhaustion," said Elliott.

"We were put on the spot because we were being his spokesmen (to the press) and we didn't know a lot."

Elliott recalls vividly the afternoon of August 16, 1977.

"I was in my office when I got a call from the Emergency Room supervisor," he said.

"He said Elvis had just come in and it didn't look good. They were trying to resuscitate him. That was the last thing in the world I expected. "I went to the emergency room. There were a number of people in there. My first impression was he was dead. He was just blue."

Joe Esposito, Billy Smith, Charlie Hodge and many other Elvis cronies were in the adjoining trauma treatment room.

"Doctor Nick came in there, his head hanging down, and he told them, 'It's over. He's gone.'

"Everybody started crying. Some of them started to walk out in the hall, but Esposito stopped them, saying, 'No, we're not going out.' (He didn't want people to see them crying.)

"We didn't want to make the announcement until Doctor Nick had gone to Graceland and notified Vernon. Meanwhile, we were getting calls from all over the world and all of our operators, all of our people, were told to just say, 'Elvis is in respiratory distress. We are working on him.'"

A press conference was called and Esposito and Elliott walked in facing some 50 microphones and a flood of TV cameras. The plan called for Esposito to make the announcement, but when it came time for him to stand up and approach the microphones, he turned to Elliott and said, "I can't do it. You do it."

"It wasn't that big a thing," said Elliott. "I told the world that Elvis had died. I'm not sure what all I said, but I was using stock terms. I got quoted all around the world. I got newspaper clips from everywhere."

==== I (Bill Burk) had long ago learned of Elvis' having his hospital windows covered with aluminum to allow him to sleep days. He had picked this up from Danny Thomas. As I drove from my home near Graceland every morning to work, as I came off the expressway, the first building on the right was BMH.

Automatically, I would look up to that 17th story window and IF I saw it wrapped in foil, the first thing I would do on reaching my office some 6 blocks away would be to call Elliott and ask him when Elvis had been checked in and what was the reason for his being in the hospital. At the times of my calls, Elliott was never prepared to announce Elvis was even IN the hospital, so he would deny it.

Then, later in the day, call a press conference to say Elvis was in the hospital for this or that. On another occasion, I wrote in my column that Elvis had sent out to Anderton's to get 36 cheeseburgers brought to his hospital room. Elliott called me, enraged, saying this was untrue; that hospital policy did not allow patients to send out for food lest they get sick and sue the hospital. He demanded a retraction! I told him I would not write it; that I knew what I had written was true.

I had gotten it from two sources:

(1) Anderton's; and (2)

the person Elvis sent to pick up the burgers.

Further enraged at my non-cooperation, Elliott then called my editor, Charles Schneider, demanding a retraction. Charlie called me into his office (he had Elliott on hold on the phone) and asked how sure I was of my report and I told him my sources, and he picked up the phone and told Elliott "no retraction."

Then, on the Saturday after Elvis died, Elliott was being interviewed by another of our reporters and he recalled, fondly, how "Elvis used to send out and get cheeseburgers because he didn't like hospital food." I have never let him forget that in the many years since.

Bill E. Burk Publisher, Elvis World Magazine



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