and Baptist Memorial Hospital...August 16, 1977
E. Burk looks back at Elvis' stays in Baptist Memorial including
that fateful day in August 1977
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
had a policy that our employees could not accept gratuities,
but with Elvis, we had to look the other way."
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.
on departing, Elvis would have the flowers sent to him distributed
to other patients on the floor.
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.
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.
said Elliott. "They had flown from England to Las Vegas to
Memphis, back to England and never got to see him."
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
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.
opposite copyright Bill E. Burk)
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
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."
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.
were put on the spot because we were being his spokesmen (to
the press) and we didn't know a lot."
recalls vividly the afternoon of August 16, 1977.
was in my office when I got a call from the Emergency Room
supervisor," he said.
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."
Esposito, Billy Smith, Charlie Hodge and many other Elvis
cronies were in the adjoining trauma treatment room.
Nick came in there, his head hanging down, and he told
them, 'It's over. He's gone.'
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.)
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
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."
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.
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.
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
had gotten it from two sources:
Anderton's; and (2)
person Elvis sent to pick up the burgers.
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."
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
E. Burk Publisher, Elvis World Magazine