Book Review: Elvis Presley Never Grew Up

BC TheSeekerKing 1

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Elvis Presley never grew up.

He hit the big time when he was still a relatively unformed young man, and based on what I read in Gary Tillery’s biography, The Seeker King, remained emotionally at that age for the rest of his days.

Sudden success on the scale that Elvis achieved can and often does become a prison for those who experience it. The constant hammering from well-meaning fans exerts enormous pressure to withdraw from normal life.

I think people underestimate the powerful talent possessed by artists such as Elvis. His ability to connect with and hold his audience through decades of ups and downs was not just a manifestation of press and hype. There is an ability to touch people on a visceral level in these great stars. They have something in them that reaches through the screen or down from the stage and connects with the people watching them in a way that those of us who are unaffected by it don’t really understand.

This kind of magnetism does not admit the normal limits that exist between performers and their audiences. It creates a fusion between the artist and his art that leaves no space for the person to exist.

Elvis was young and naive when he rocketed to fame. He was a high school graduate raised by adoring but impoverished parents in the rural South of the great depression. His parents’ love gave him the sense of self necessary to step out as an individual at an early age. Their unquestioning support was, in a very real way, the loft beneath his wings.

But nothing in his background prepared him to deal with the onslaught of fame that took over his life when he was barely out of school. He fell, as so many of these young talents do, into the habit of isolating with a group of paid cronies. Sadly, he was introduced to mood altering prescription drugs by physicians who were, to a great extent, just another part of his entourage.

Despite all this, he retained the generous and gentle spirit, the courtesy and spirituality, that were his trademark. Elvis was intelligent and sensitive enough to hunger for more from life than empty fame. Based on what I read, it sounds as if there was a bit of esp in Elvis’ family, and that he had a good dose of it himself.

He grew up in the Holiness church of the 1930s and 1940s South. The beliefs he found there didn’t leave him as an adult, but he seems to have hungered for an understanding of God that went deeper than that simple theology.

The book draws its name from Elvis’ constant seeking after spiritual truth. This quest ran through all the years of isolation that became his life after he achieved stardom.

From his first hit record, Elvis ceased to live as a free person. I think that his plight, including the increasing and ultimately fatal dependence on prescription drugs was, to a great extent, the product of surrounding himself with hangers on whose livelihood depended on keeping him caught.

It must take great self-awareness, courage and determination for a person this famous to build an independent, healthy life for themselves. Elvis came to his fame from a background that did not give him the skills or associates to handle what his life became. He was so young when he became The King that he was still figuring out who he was.

It’s to his credit that Elvis Presley stayed a nice person despite all this. He was, in many ways, an innocent until the day he died. That’s because Elvis Presley was hermetically sealed in the capsule of his fame and the entourage that formed a protective barrier between him and the outside world.

Elvis died from what amounts to medical malpractice by doctors that he trusted. It is bitter irony that this man who didn’t drink and who abhorred drugs was hooked on prescription drugs and ultimately died from that untreated addiction because he believed that if a doctor prescribed something, it had to be safe and medicinal.

I recommend The Seeker King to those who are interested in Elvis Presley. It is also a good case study in the deleterious affects of fame on the lives of public figures.

 

The Gate of Hell: Prescription Drug Addiction

Through me you go to the grief wracked city;

Through me you go to everlasting pain;

Through me you go to pass among lost souls.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno: The Gate of Hell

 Timothy Dalrymple, who blogs at Philosophical Fragments, wrote a  compelling account of prescription drug addiction in a post titled (oddly enough) Overcoming Sex Addiction.

Tim says that “it would be hypocritical” for him to talk about addiction of any sort without also discussing his own addiction to prescription drugs. At that point, he veers away from the subject of sex addiction into a retelling of his own spiral into physical addiction to painkilling drugs as a result of the lifelong pain he must endure because of a broken neck.

I have family members who are drug addicts. I can sympathize easily with someone who is dealing with prescription drug addiction (or any other drug addiction) from the outside. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and be helpless to stop them. I also know how it feels to watch the destruction of their once delightful personalities under the influence of drugs.

I can sympathize with family and friends of drug addicts. The drug addicts themselves, not so much.

Tim’s honest account of how the prospect of a lifetime of pain demoralizes while the steady infusion of addicting drugs into a person’s body and life grows an addiction that won’t be assuaged gave me a new and necessary perspective on my own family members who have lost the battle with addiction to prescription drugs. I sometimes almost forget that a lot of physical pain fueled the original drug-taking that led to the addiction. All I see is the ruined personality, the vacant shell of the individual I once talked to, laughed with and turned to for companionship.

Grief for the loss of the person you knew and loved is part of life for those who must live with the addicted living dead. It is even more acute when the drug addiction is a response to emotional rather than physical pain.

I think Tim’s article is well worth reading for anyone who loves someone who suffers from addiction. In truth, the addicted person is just the center of an ever-expanding circle of suffering that ripples out to parents, siblings, children, friends, and on into future generations.

I admire Timothy Dalrymple. Not many people have the grit to face their own addictions and do something about them. I respect the courage it took to write about it so honestly in this post. I encourage you to read it.

Timothy Dalrymple’s post says in part:

… It was not happenstance that I decided to teach a class on sin and addiction.  I became intensely interested in the topic for a very specific reason.

I have taken pain medications more or less constantly ever since I broke my neck in 1996.  Every day, I leave my house with a packet of pills in my pocket.  For the last six years, I’ve been on a medication that relieves my pain without causing any euphoria or craving — but that was not always the case.

To be clear, my medications have always been prescribed and supervised by a physician.  But that does not mean — does not mean at all — that I have not been addicted.  One of my doctors, in fact, was very clear with me: if I put you on this medicine for a long time, you will become addicted.  There’s no question about it.  We will just hope to control the addiction.

As though addictions can be controlled.  But what choice did I have?  If I did not take the pain medications, then I was in pain constantly.  Every hour of every day.  Around my two fused vertebrae, I have nerve damage, bulging discs, pinched nerves, traumatic arthritis.  What some people don’t appreciate about chronic pain is that the physical pain is one thing, but the psychological burden can be almost unbearable.  It’s a terrible thing to stare down the barrel of the rest of your life and know that it will rifled through with agony to the end.

So I went from Vicodin and Percocet to Methadone and Oxycontin.  I would be on a certain medicine for a while, my body would build a tolerance, I would need to raise the dosage, eventually the side effects would grow too significant, and we would switch to another medicine.  And the most dangerous of the drugs I utilized was, without a doubt, Oxycontin.

I took Oxycontin — and usually felt a “high” — three times a day, for years.  While I never ground and injected or snorted it, I learned that there were other ways to get it into your system more quickly, or ways to experience its effects more profoundly. (Read more here.)


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