William (Bill) J. Ronan

(author of

Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley)

Interview conducted by Nigel Patterson, November 2018

About William J. Ronan: Bill Ronan is the author of the book, Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley The Elvis Analysis: The Role of Suggestion in the Etiology of Psychosomatic Disorders (published in 2005). Bill is a licensed independent clinical social worker and Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association. He has been a practising medical hynotherapist since 1974.

In Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley, Bill presents a unique post-mortem of Elvis Presley which suggests the root causes of Elvis' death.

EIN's Nigel Patterson recently caught up with Bill to find out more about his intriguing book.


EIN: Who is Bill Ronan?
BR:  I have been a practicing pyschotherapist for the past 44 years. My license is for a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LISCW).  I am trained in what is now called Medical Hypnoanalysis.
EIN: Bill, what was the motivation for writing Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley?
BR: Upon starting my career as a Medical Hynpoanalyst, I was amazed at the good results I was facilitating with my clients.  One descriptive category called Walking Zombie Syndrome fascinated me (It is actually a fairly common adjustment, to severe trauma, but not yet known, or labeled as such, by other health care professionals and of course the public. I estimate about 10-20% of the population might qualify for this assessment). Some of the things I heard of Elvis’ life and death appeared to be related to this Syndrome. I was wondering if a case could be built that someone suffering from this coping mechanism could actually lead to death. Thus, this started my journey researching for the book.

EIN: Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley has a very interesting sub-title, “The Role of Suggestion in the Etiology of Psychosomatic Disorders”. In layperson terms, what does this mean?

BR: Etiology means cause or causes. What I am saying is that ideas conveyed in any manner can carry the power of a hypnotic suggestion for good or ill. Ideas have very definite and profound effects as determined by Pavlov, the Nobel prize winning physiologist. That is to say words or ideas can make a person feel very good or very bad and there can be strong physical effects on the person.

EIN: Bill, you cover a lot of fascinating and technically complex psychological ground in Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley. How would you summarize what people can expect when reading the book and why should they not let the technical complexity stop them from reading it?

BR: I would encourage readers to plod through. A lot of it is backing up my opinions by the research of others far more recognized, proven etc, than myself. It is like an attorney providing opinions derived in previous cases. If they are not interested in all the detail, at least they should be able to comprehend the ideas presented.
EIN: An important point in Psychological Autopsy of Elvis Presley is that medical examiners, by principle, are essentially looking for one, physical cause of death. You contrast this with a person’s reality which is made up of interrelated physical, emotional and psychological factors. Please tell us more about this issue.
BR: My hope was/is that more professionals, like the General Practitioner, would begin to bear these kinds of issues in mind when dealing with their patients. Emotion, ideas, memories - all can have enormous impacts on us.

EIN: You present a strong analysis in your book of the psychological forces impacting Elvis including Walking Zombie Syndrome which you mentioned earlier. In researching Elvis’ psychology did you find predominating forces that contributed to his death or was it a case of the sum of all forces?

BR: I would say it is the sum of all forces.  I believe that when a pathologist assesses the cause of death, there can be arguments over what has played the major role. For example, the accident or the heart attack. To my knowledge there hadn’t been a psychological autopsy of Elvis.  Many acknowledge the physical effects of thoughts so I felt it was time to give them some attention.

EIN: In your book one of the key psychological conditions that you discuss as having affected Elvis is the unusual sounding Ponce de Leon Syndrome. Please tell our readers about this.

BR: Ponce de Leon Syndrome (PDL) can be described as a psychological age arrest brought about by trauma in their life experiences.  Often when someone emotionally dies because of trauma it relates to their life history before the trauma.  Hence, they can seem quite immature to many in certain situations.


EIN: You also discuss schizophrenia in some detail. Was Elvis schizophrenic?

BR: I do not think he was schizophrenic, however that is a diagnosis that would need to be made by a qualified diagnostician. What I have used is descriptive understandings that are not recognized my the mental health community. People with a wide variety of mental health diagnosis can have the Walking Zombie Syndrome or the Ponce de Leon Syndrome and no mental health diagnosis at all. 

EIN: Nill, what were the other major psychological forces affecting Elvis?

BR: In my opinion, the major forces affecting Elvis were (1) the death of his twin brother at birth, (2) the death of his mother at the height of his career, and (3) the feeling he had communicated with God.

EIN: There has been a lot of research into the concept of the “surviving twin”, where the surviving twin can experience a range of feelings including abandonment and feeling alone, seeking perfect and unconditional love, and unexplainable guilt or grief. Did you find Elvis suffered from inappropriate guilt (jurisdictional problem)?

BR: Absolutely. I am not familiar with all of the research in that area but from what I do know it can offer a lot.

EIN: And how significant was Gladys' death in shaping/influencing Elvis’ psychology and his death at an early age?

BR: I argue in my book that Gladys’ death was the key reason Elvis died 19 years to the month after her.  Both died in their forties. Both of a heart attack. Elvis had gained enough weight to look more like her at the time of death.  He had been dying his hair black, I think to look like his mother, he was actually blond or light brown.

EIN: Elvis felt he had communicated with God. Please tell us about this.

BR: Elvis felt he was in communication with his mother, and his “spiritual advisor” explained to him this would be how God sought to communicate within. After determining that God had communicated to him through cloud formations, Elvis reinvigorated his musical career through excellent gospel music.

EIN: Elvis’ deterioration as a person. What was it about his emotional and psychological make-up that the death of Gladys and the loss of Priscilla had such a profound effect?

BR: The loss of Priscilla was very traumatic but no where nearly as much as his mother’s death. For reasons cited in my book he began to view Priscilla as a sister, the daughter his mother could not have. Over time he refused to have sex with her as if she was his mother. Priscilla and also his friends/body guards were very good people and did their best for him.
EIN: Do these losses represent what you term “symptom intensifying events”?
BR: They can and do play a part in what could be Symptom Intensifying Events. These are addressed in my book and hopefully in an upcoming video.  

EIN: Bill, it has long been considered by many fans and medical specialists that Elvis suffered from depression. What is your perspective on this and its role in his early death?

BR: Anyone who loses a loved one due to death will experience depression. I knew this academically and personally when I started this analysis.  When my wife died 17 years ago, I also experienced extreme depression. I was a single father of our son and there was no other family to help out. Through this, I carried on.

This is still unresolved in me.  My first wife and I had talked a lot about this and said to the other if one of us was to die the other should continue vigorously with life and not become like I had discovered about Elvis.

EIN: Related to depression, a theme discussed by many researchers, including yourself, is about how lonely Elvis felt in life despite being surrounded by his family and the Memphis Mafia. What was happening here?
BR: The “dead” cannot share their lives because their life is not really happening for them.
EIN: Bill, could Elvis have prevented his death at age 42?
BR: I think in cases such as Elvis', a well trained outsider (therapist, medical hypnoanalyst) would have been required to help him. I do not think that any person can be objective enough to work through their problems successfully. That would of course be dependent on the intensity of the emotional event.
EIN: How could a trained therapist like you, have helped Elvis?
BR: To put it simply, I would have Elvis mentally and emotionally revisit the experience of his mother’s death in a relatively controlled relaxed state.  I would help him discuss his feelings and see if he would agree with my ideas.  I could understand if he doesn’t agree with my idea of what happened.  However, assuming he does agree, then I would point out strongly the fact that he did not need to die and that his mother would want him to live; that he should share the love they had experienced.  There are generally a lot of variables but this could be the major crux of it. 

My psychological autopsy of Elvis is of course too late to help him, but if others become more aware of the issues to look out for, it may very well help them in the future. Death is what I have come to understand can be the consequences of leaving conditions untreated.

EIN: Bill, a powerful observation I took from reading your book is the weakness in the human race which makes us seek heroes. You note that our heroes become gods by our doing, and that our making gods from heroes too often destroys them, as they, like the rest of us, are only human and subject to human frailties. Elvis was, and still is, a particularly powerful hero and god. How do you view Elvis?
BR: I found Elvis’ early rock n Roll music to be very powerful and engaging. As Mick Jagger noticed about the response of women to him on stage, Mick said, “This looks like a good job.”  Elvis stood out from all the others.  He was his own person, and as a singer, dramatically so. He very much wanted to be a part of his community. He had been an outsider it seems through school. He wanted to be part of a Gospel Quartet. He wanted to be part of things and communities, but was always kept out, in part because of who and what he was to his fans. It must have been so depressing to have so much and still not be able to get what you want.

 EIN: One of the chapters in your book examines the issue of “the doctor as pusher”. In this context what is your view on the role of Dr. Nick in Elvis’ death?
BR: I am personally opposed to the over use of medications. So much can be done with proper treatment and with proper understanding he could have dealt with his problems. I do not want to attack Dr Nick. I think he probably did the best he could.
EIN: You have already mentioned the impact of Priscilla in Elvis' life. How do you characterise the impact of Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden?
BR: From all I can tell they were good for him, but they could not be enough. With my understanding of Medical Hypnoanalysis and the tools I have learned, I feel I could have helped where others had not.
EIN: I was interested that you discussed an issue which will not be familiar to many fans - Elvis' interest in resurrection. You also discuss resurrection in terms of "emotional death". Please tell us about this.
BR: I believe Elvis “came back to life” after being “emotionally dead” after experiencing what he thought was a communication from God. Treatment through Medical Hypnoanalysis can also allow for this to happen.
EIN: Elvis’ interest in resurrection won’t be familiar to many Elvis fans. Please tell us about this.

BR: I believe Elvis “came back to live” after being “emotionally dead” after experiencing what he thought was a communication from God. 

EIN: Bill, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us.

BR: Thank you for the opportunity.

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