For X number of years, leading up to August 1977, Elvis had on his staff what was essentially a live-in nurse: a nurse who lived on the grounds of the Graceland estate. What were her duties? What and who was she responsible for? When Elvis went on tour, Dr. Nichopoulos claimed he was responsible for everyone, so was the live-in nurse responsible for everyone at Graceland? Everyone who was on the property at any given time, or just the residents, or did these duties include anyone who was there at any time, day or night? What was the protocol for Elvis getting medications? A call to Dr. Nichopoulos? Or did Elvis go straight to the nurse? Who had access to the medications stored in the nurse’s on-premises quarters? Where exactly were these medications stored? Were the drugs under lock and key? Who had the key, or access to the key? Were non-trained people handling and delivering medications to Elvis? How many years did this go on? If Dr. Nichopoulos was breaking the law* by writing multiple prescriptions for multiple people to be stored for later use (aka, stockpiling), why did the onsite/live-nurse agree to partake in this unusual backyard pharmacy arrangement? Did she not understand that this was illegal?**
**We’ll never know.
More questions come to mind…
When was the nurse on duty, if she resided on the premises? Patsy (Presley) Gambill testified in 1981 that when the live-in nurse was home, in her trailer on Graceland property, she was considered “on duty.” So the nurse had an actual 9-to-5 job at The Medical Group, and then when she went home, she was automatically on duty for Elvis? When, then, was she off duty? What if she had to go to the grocery store? Did she have to clock out? What if Elvis had a medical emergency when she was out running errands? How was the change from “on duty” to “off duty” managed?
Did this nurse pay rent or some sort of other payment for living on the estate’s grounds, in a trailer presumably provided by Elvis? Elvis loaned a large sum of money to Dr. Nichopoulos for the construction of his house, and the doctor paid a mortgage to Elvis and then later to Elvis’s estate. This was not an ethical doctor/patient relationship. If the live-in nurse was paying rent to live on Elvis’s property, in a trailer provided and owned by him, wouldn’t this have also been an unethical arrangement (conflict-of-interest), given that Elvis would have been the nurse’s landlord?
[In the image above, the Backyard Pharmacy® would have been located in the area seen in the upper left corner.]
And let’s not forget that the live-in nurse’s husband was an employee of Elvis’s. So, pausing for a moment, let’s map this out: Nurse Tish Henley works for Dr. Nichopoulos at The Medical Group. Dr. Nichopoulos works for Elvis (in a doctor/patient relationship). Tommy Henley works for Elvis. Tommy is married to Tish. Tommy answers to Elvis. Tish answers to Dr. Nichopoulos. Tish also answers to Elvis. Dr. Nichopoulos essentially answers to Elvis. Tommy and Tish presumably pay some sort of rent to Elvis for their trailer accommodations, meaning Elvis is their landlord. Dr. Nichopoulos borrows a huge sum of money from Elvis (and for years after pays a mortgage to Elvis and then to the Presley estate). While all this is going on, Dr. Nichopoulos is providing Elvis with pretty much a blank prescription pad, and keeping a stash of Schedule II narcotics in a trailer behind Graceland, to which Tish and Tommy have access. (Dr. Nichopoulos had also been party to a lawsuit against Elvis, but we won’t even factor that in.) When licensed nurse Tish isn’t onsite, she instructs groundskeeper Tommy (who does not have a nursing/medical license) to handle the medications. In a pinch, unlicensed Aunt Delta can make medication deliveries, as can medically-trained-but-unlicensed Al Strada, as can drug user David Stanley, as can drug user Rick Stanley, as can the son of Dr. Nichopoulos (who also works for Elvis). And don’t forget the cherry on top: there is no record-keeping. [See below.] Tell me, folks, can anyone come up with a more ridiculous, irresponsible, and unethical arrangement, one that was so comically absurd as to render the whole operation a complete and total farce? Ya know, except for the fact that it was so dangerous?
A lot of questions come to mind, right?
When did this live-in nurse move in? 1972, 1975, or 1976…? During the Nichopoulos trial, Tish Henley testified, “that she had been in charge of the drugs at Graceland since 1975 and kept them in an overnight bag under lock and key in her trailer.” [“The Death of Elvis,” pg. 303] (I am sure that, “Store drugs in an overnight bag,” is part of every nurse’s medical training.) Citing the same testimony, Dr. Nichopoulos writes in his book that Henley, “had supervised medications given to Elvis, his father, and his grandmother since 1975.” [Dr. Nichopoulos’s book, pg. 179; Nichopoulos mentions 1975 again on page 175]
In a 2020 interview, Tish Henley said she moved to the Graceland trailer enclave in 1972. No one else mentions 1972. Was this move due solely to her husband being hired by Elvis, or was this the start of her medical duties?
On page 559 of “Careless Love,” Peter Guralnick writes that Dr. Nichopoulos had arranged in early 1975 for either he or Henley to stop by Graceland each day after work to administer Elvis’s medications. This suggests Henley did not yet reside there. (Why would Henley be asked to stop by Graceland if she and her family already lived there?) Guralnick writes on page 605 that Henley had moved in to a trailer at Graceland in June 1976.
Patsy (Presley) Gambill testified in 1981 that Henley moved to the Graceland grounds in 1976.
The 8/16/77 Dilaudid
Why did Dr. Nichopoulos write a prescription for 6 Dilaudid tablets for Elvis early on the morning of August 16, 1977? He had written a prescription (ostensibly meant to be taken on the tour) the day prior for 50 Dilaudid tablets. Where were these pills? Why didn’t Dr. Nichopoulos simply give Elvis some Dilaudid from this prescription? Why 6 tablets for a toothache? Not only could Dr. Nichopoulos have substituted a less-powerful drug for the requested Dilaudid (consider the word “requested”: who was in charge, the doctor or the patient?), but even if he agreed to provide Dilaudid, why 6 tablets? Why not 2 tablets? Why not just 1?
Dr. Nichopoulos claimed he wrote this prescription because he didn’t have his medical bag with him. Well, um, why not? Why would a physician who has such a high-maintenance patient as Elvis not have his medical bag with him at all times? Was Dr. Nichopoulos suggesting that the entire August 15 stockpile of medications/drugs for the tour were…in his medical bag…?
Was this medication not available from the Backyard Pharmacy®, under the control and management of Tish Henley? Elvis asked for and received Dilaudid regularly, and frequently, so why wasn’t Dilaudid available from the nurse who was stationed on-premises? (Or was it?) Part of the reason to have a nurse living on the grounds of Graceland was to facilitate 24-hour care, and Elvis requesting pain medication at 2:30am would fall under that operational construct. Simply, why have a 24-hour nurse if you still go directly to the doctor for medication?
Henley also stated during the Nichopoulos trial that she sent one Dilaudid tablet up to Ginger for menstrual cramps that morning, not the Quaalude that Ginger had identified. [“TDoE,” pg. 303] Henley thus confirmed, in this testimony, that Dilaudid was available from her trailer stash. Why, then, did Dr. Nichopoulos write the early morning Dilaudid prescription?
So, we clearly see that pain medication was available from the Backyard Pharmacy®, and yet, when Elvis wanted pain medication at 2:30am-3:00am, he didn’t go to his live-in/onsite nurse; instead, he called his doctor, who then provided a written prescription to Rick Stanley, who then had to drive over to Dr. Nichopoulos’s house to get it (the prescription was not called in). Stanley then had to drive to the all-night Baptist pharmacy to get the prescription filled, then return to Graceland and give the medication to Elvis. (That’s a lot of effort when you have a live-in nurse on the property.) Elvis then played racquetball (which is obviously something a lot of people do when they are in serious pain and require Schedule II narcotics), then hung around with Billy Smith for awhile in the bathroom, then went to bed and read for awhile, then returned to the bathroom. And yet, according to Dr. Nichopoulos, Elvis never took any of the Dilaudid, as Nichopoulos said he later found the medication and removed it (never mind the legality of that). So let’s walk through this again: Elvis has such pain that he needs Dilaudid, Rick Stanley is dispatched to go pick up the prescription and then to pick up the medication at BMH (even though the medication is available onsite), Elvis receives the medication, and then Elvis doesn’t use the medication. And Elvis’s actions between 4:00am and 9:00am give us no indication that he was experiencing any type of pain.
So why was this Dilaudid prescription provided?
And if Elvis needed pain medication at 3:00am, why did he call his doctor? He had a live-in nurse. Why did his doctor then write a prescription, instead of asking the on-premises nurse to provide the medication?
Were any records kept of the drugs distributed to Elvis and others from Henley’s trailer? Henley stated, regarding Elvis, at least, that, “she kept no records of when or how she dispensed drugs to Elvis.” [“TDoE,” pg. 304] It is also quite clear that with her husband and others assisting her in her drug-dispensing duties that she did not witness Elvis taking the medications she had provided, meaning that he could have been stockpiling his own stash.
Henley further testified that Elvis took the following sedatives and painkillers: Placidyl, Nembutal, Quaalude, Percodan, Dilaudid, Demerol, Empirin codeine, and Tylenol with codeine. She also said Elvis took the stimulants (“uppers”) Dexamyl and Biphetamine. [“TDoE,” pg. 304, paraphrasing] And yet Dr. Nichopoulos stated that, “no narcotics were in [Elvis’s] nighttime medication envelope.” [Dr. Nichopoulos’s book, pg. 13] But note that Nichopoulos doesn’t say whether other narcotics were in the Henley-operated Backyard Pharmacy®, only that the packets didn’t contain narcotics. So was Henley storing narcotics in her trailer? Apparently so. Did the packets contain narcotics? Apparently so.
Another point worth noting: Dr. Nichopoulos stated in his book that Tish Henley would have had no problem saying “no” to Elvis regarding any request for drugs. Nichopoulos said: “Since [Henley] had small children, she was accustomed to saying no when necessary. I had never doubted she would do that where Elvis was concerned.” Now, this is important because Nichopoulos follows this passage by quoting Henley, where she said: “I never gave any medications without Dr. Nick’s orders.” Nichopoulos was obviously trying to convince the reader that Henley was tough enough to say “no” to Elvis when he requested/demanded drugs, but Henley herself admits that she did not take on these decisions at all; instead, she deferred to Dr. Nichopoulos. That is, when Elvis asked for a drug outside the protocol, Henley did not make a decision of “yes” Elvis can have this medication, or “no” Elvis cannot have this medication, she instead contacted Dr. Nichopoulos and followed his directive. So there was never a yes/no question for Henley, and thus Nichopoulos’s confidence in her decision-making is irrelevant, and in fact, misleading. A small but crucial distinction to keep in mind: whether Henley would say “no” to Elvis wasn’t the problem, the problem was whether Dr. Nichopoulos would say “no” to Elvis. And in this example, it seems he had difficulty saying “no,” since he gave Elvis SIX Dilaudid tablets for a toothache.