"The Elvis Cover-Up"...

...the "20/20" documentaries

Serious investigation or tabloid sensationalism?

"The Elvis Cover-Up" was based on the book: The Death of Elvis What Really Happened*, Charles C. Thompson II & James P. Cole, Robert Hale, 1991, ISBN: 0709048033

In 1979, "20/20", a popular news-magazine program on the ABC network in the USA, achieved its highest rating ever when it broadcast Geraldo Rivera's investigation into the death of Elvis Presley. Following the success of the program, "20/20" broadcast several follow-up segments in later editions. These included the Elvis Cover-Up #2; the indictment of Dr Nick, and The Legend Sells.

Unseen for more than two decades, the "20/20" reports have assumed iconic status in discussions about Elvis' death.

Recently a DVD copy of the original hour long program and follow-up segments has been offered for sale and EIN was able to obtain a copy. On viewing the program(s) we were pleasantly surprised at what we found.

In typical tabloid media style there are a number of glaring factual errors (Rivera stating near the beginning of the program that all of Elvis' 28 films were money makers being a good example of shoddy background research).

However, the central objective of the 20/20 investigation was to answer the question...what killed Elvis Presley?, crucially, what caused his heart to stop?

The documentary was produced by Charles C. Thompson, co-author of the book, "The Death of Elvis". It is from the Thompson and Cole book that the documentary essentially finds its narrative.

That narrative, based on a leaked copy of the toxicology report, concludes that Elvis had a medical (prescription medication) addiction and he died due to polypharmacy, an accidental overdose of the pain killer, Codeine, and nonbarbituate sedative, Quaalude.

Throughout the program (and in follow-up stories) Rivera makes no bones about who is one of the central culprits in the cover-up, Shelby County Medical Examiner, Dr Jerry Francisco. Francisco took it upon himself to call a press conference following the autopsy, to announce Elvis died from cardiac arrhythmia, a statement deliberately misleading and only true on a superficial level. As Rivera asks, yes Elvis' heart stopped beating, but the real question is what caused it to stop beating?

Francisco's statement was a finding at apparent odds with the official autopsy findings carried out by Dr Eric Muirhead, chief pathologist at Baptist Memorial Hospital. Francisco was an observer during the autopsy but for whatever reason, seized the opportunity to quell media questions and suspicions with a prosaic explanation of how Elvis died.

Francisco would later make the outrageous claim that "Dr Nick's" indictment for prescribing thousands of pills to Elvis had nothing at all to do with his death! Francisco's arrogance is stunning - it is an amazing scene to watch.

Further, in his arguments to the media, Francisco stated that the amounts of drugs in Elvis' body were not sufficient to kill him. What Francisco deliberately omitted to add was that the letter he took that view from also included another sentence saying "categorically", that in combination, all the drugs present in Elvis' body could well have been lethal!

In true conspiracy fashion the viewer is told that:

  • the death scene was "cleaned up" by insiders at Graceland
  • "Dr Nick" was to collect Elvis' medications and provide them to the police (the latter never happening)
  • there was no formal police investigation into Elvis' death in August 1977
  • there was no Coroner's Inquest
  • there was no drug investigation
  • the contents of Elvis' stomach were destroyed without analysis
  • the hospital files concerning Elvis' death are missing
  • the police photos of the death scene and the toxicology reports are missing
  • there were/are "two" death certificates!

Elvis' alleged fiancee at the time of his death, Ginger Alden, features a number of times in the program(s). Contrary to many reports that she was an "out of her depth" young woman, she comes across as confident and lucid.

Probably due to clever editing she states that in August 1977 Elvis' time had come, and adds "but there again in my mind there were a number of unanswered questions'' (the Elvis is alive believers will have a field day with this!). She also reveals the last words Elvis ever said.

Others to feature include a very hesitant and withdrawn "Dr Nick", Dr Max Shapiro (aka "Dr Feelgood"), Dr Elias Ghanem, private detective John O'Grady, W.S. Nash the pharmacist who filled the prescription for what would be the fatal dose, Marty Lacker, David and Ricky Stanley, Dee Presley, Vester Presley (talking about his book), Dr Jerry Francisco, and celebrity medical examiner, Cyril Wecht.

Private detective O'Grady voices his strong opinion on Elvis' death...negligent homicide!

DVD quality: The audio and video quality is generally good-very good, although as it was taped from TV there are annoying jumps and video imperfections between each program/segment.

The release viewed by EIN (see visuals) was region free, has a professional look and came with a picture disc. There is also a segment selection menu.

Verdict: The deliberate mix of emotional tabloid journalism and seering toxicology evidence makes the "20/20" program(s) compelling, if at times, disturbing viewing. Regardless of your view on the merits of its conclusions (and many have disputed the conclusions), the program(s) have significant merit in questioning (exposing) the actions of "Dr Nick", Dr Jerry Francisco, and what appears to have been a 'Keystone Cops' approach to Elvis' death.

Not surprisingly, the Thompson & Cole book on which the program(s) were based, provides a much more detailed account and explanation of the subject.

What the "20/20" investigation does do persuasively, is establish that while there was/is a conspiracy, Elvis is indeed dead.

Availability: "The Elvis Cover-Up" (aka "The Death of Elvis What Really Happened") DVD has been found recently on eBay. Copies of the initial few "20/20" broadcasts have been listed, as has a copy of just the original one hour special.

EIN Note: The "20/20" programs currently in circulation do not include the Geraldo Rivera special in April 1985 where singer David Darlock admitted he was the voice behind alleged Elvis song recordings released by Steven Chanzes, and later by Major Bill Smith.

Read EIN's controversial article on the Bill Beeny "DNA sample"


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