Despite Detractors, Ex-medical Examiner Defends Elvis Conclusions that It Wasn't an Overdose

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Lab technicians were playing Elvis music in the background. From somewhere outside the lab, people could be heard crying.

"People were just sobbing. It was a sad, sad moment," says Dr. Noel Florendo, a pathology intern assigned to help perform the autopsy of the 42-year-old man on the table at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Florendo says he and another intern followed instructions from his former professor, Dr. Jerry Francisco, as they began the postmortem on the biggest legend in music history. Elvis Presley, the world's first rock star, had outraged much of America at first, and controversy was about to follow him to the grave.

In 1961, Francisco had become Shelby County's first medical examiner. He was the last word in Memphis on how people died. A pathology professor at the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences, he had helped train pathologists at almost every hospital in the region.

Francisco had "seen more dead people" than anyone else in the room, says Florendo.

Yet, what happened Aug.16, 1977, would become one of the most highly publicized cliffhangers since the deaths of the Romanovs in Russia, the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa or conspiracy theories about a Marilyn Monroe murder.

Even now, Elvis' death could be classified as a medical "mystery," says Maurice Elliott, former vice president of Baptist Hospital and former chief executive officer of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. Francisco would attribute the death to "cardiac arrhythmia due to undetermined causes," or, in layman's terms, a heart attack.

The rest of the pathology team suspected "polypharmacy." Elvis had a history of drug abuse, and most of those in the room did not see enough evidence of heart disease to justify calling the death a heart attack...

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