Very few people can say their lives are as rife with experience – and the wisdom that accompanies it – like David Stanley can. Having been born in Virginia in the year 1955, his life was not supposed to be particularly remarkable. But, in 1960, his mother Dee Stanley married Vernon Presley – Elvis’ father – who had been a widower for the preceding two years.
Instantly, the lives of David and his brothers Ricky and Billy were transformed by the serendipitous union that saw the new blended family move into the sumptuous Graceland Mansion. Over the course of the next 17 years, David grew close to his renowned and gracious step-brother, spending Christmases and Thanksgivings with him; or, if Elvis was working, David would hang out in film studio back lots and recording studios.
However, when, in 1972 David became an employee of Elvis’, joining his celebrated family member on the road for countless tours that zigzagged from one city to the other, a significant change had occurred. David readily learned to separate Elvis’ diamond-carved image from the man, who, as loving and caring as he’d been, was besieged by a debilitating prescription-drug problem.
It was one that Elvis could not, or possibly would not, overcome, because just days before the tragedy that would bring the entire globe to its knees, he confided in David a strikingly foreboding sentiment, perhaps one consciously decided upon, that he would soon be in a “higher place.”
And so on August 16th, 1977, David trudged through the chaos at Graceland, and saw his universally loved friend and step-brother lying on the floor, before picking him up and holding him in his arms for the very last time. Consequently, it would set in motion what has become David’s primary purpose in life – to educate and crusade against the perils of prescription-drug abuse, using his pronounced status to write edifying books. His most recent one, My Brother Elvis: The Final Years, which is due out on the 39th Anniversary of the King’s passing, illuminates the fact that if someone as seemingly superhuman as Elvis wasn’t immune to self-destructive behavior, then absolutely nobody is.
Recently, LAexcites had the honor of speaking to David about his book, the last years of Elvis’ life, and, most importantly, the dangers of prescription-drug abuse.
David, why did you write this book?
DS: I actually wrote it 11 years ago. I decided to write a true and noble account of the last five years of Elvis’ life and how he went from being an iconic star to one who developed prescription-drug problems — which had an adverse affect on his family. Since writing this book, Michael Jackson died [then Whitney Houston], and now recently Prince. We’ve lost two Kings and a Prince all to a similar self-induced cause.
Ultimately, my hope is that someone will read it and know that nobody is above prescription-drug abuse. It’s happening everywhere – in college, at home, and it’s time to remind people why it’s so deadly.
What’s the happiest memory you have of Elvis?
DS: Just being from a broken home, and meeting Elvis for the first time, and how he picked me up, embraced me, and, in many ways, raised me. He didn’t have to take us in, but he did, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.
In your book, you mention that your step-brother Elvis had a great disdain for illicit “street” drugs, even going so far as to overreact if he faintly smelled marijuana on an individual, but saw nothing wrong with prescription drugs. How did he reconcile the difference in his mind?
DS: Elvis was so vehemently against drugs that he was immensely proud of the anti-drug ‘Bureau of Narcotics’ badge given to him by President Nixon; but, on the flip side, he also had an unusual trust in doctors. What started as a legitimate two-pills-a-day prescription quickly turned into abuse. Essentially, for him, if it wasn’t against the law, and not hurting anyone, he thought it was okay. In making this excuse to himself, he had no accountability nor anyone to tell him “No.” Eventually, 10,000 pills were prescribed to my brother in the last six months – and nobody needs 10,000 pills.
In fairness to him, he was the celebrity prototype. Nobody would talk about prescription-drug abuse; the Betty Ford Center didn’t exist and it was unheard of to seek help because it just wasn’t what people did.
Were the doctors enabling his addiction?
DS: If Elvis had passed away today due to prescription-drug abuse, his doctors — including Dr. Thomas Newman, Dr. Max Shapiro, and his main doctor, George Nichopoulos (Dr. Nick) — would have gone to prison, just like Dr. Conrad Murray [Michael Jackson’s doctor] did.
Was there a vulnerability or flaw about Elvis that led to prescription-drug abuse?
DS: Everybody loved Elvis; he himself knew he had flaws, and wasn’t a perfect person, but he was also a family man, who bought his mom a home, contributed to charity, and was passionate about gospel music. He was aware that his pure image was secure, and because of this, he knew [that in private] he could have a tremendous temper and abuse prescription drugs.
Could it have been the loneliness caused by no longer being with his wife Priscilla or not seeing his daughter Lisa Marie very often at the time?
DS: He married her and was never faithful, and had several girlfriends at the same time. He was cheating from day one, and I understand why she left him. [As for the way Elvis processed it], it bruised his ego more than it broke his heart. The divorce didn’t cause him to abuse prescription pills; he was doing that much before their split.
Do you think Elvis’ reported insomnia was caused by the prescription drugs or vice versa?
DS: Insomnia became a great excuse for being medicated. When he’d do a show every night, that energy would still be going after the show. But he never expressed that he needed help or had a problem; instead, he had an attitude that he could get whatever he wanted. Certainly, there was a positive side to that drive — in his sense of humor, incredible generosity, and dedication to his work. But that energy of his took on a negative character when he’d take downers — such as codeine, Quaaludes, and barbiturates — at night and amphetamines in the daytime.
Why was he so intent about giving up his life to a “higher plane” in lieu of wanting to fight through his problems and overcome them?
DS: Perhaps more so because of Elvis’ humble beginnings, there is an isolation that happens when that kind of stardom is attained. Questions like ‘Why am I deserving?’ and thoughts of ‘I don’t deserve this kind of attention or wealth’ take over. As a result, Elvis retreated into himself and wondered if people liked him because of who he really was or because he was such a big star.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was extremely confident in his profession, but he had a major lack of accountability. Those who tried to warn him [like his longtime bodyguards] were removed from his life, which only led to more excess [prescription drugs, food] and weight gain. By 1977, when I had basically become a caretaker, he weighed 255 pounds. In the end, what it came down to is how do you save someone – who doesn’t want to be saved – from themselves?
What was the biggest lesson you took away from his untimely death?
DS: I was 20 years young, but his death was my resurrection and redemption. I realized that if excess can kill my brother, then it can happen to anyone. And I was doing cocaine and drinking a lot, but I overcame that. I grew up to have two sons, and wanted to use whatever celebrity that I acquired to bring awareness to prescription-drug abuse.
What advice would you have for a celebrity (in music or film) today?
DS: Find someone you can trust, and wrap yourself up with positive, like-minded people. Look at the models of the past; so many have died. Examine how drug addiction killed them, and how it can kill anyone, whether famous or not.
Will musicians, or celebrities for that matter, ever stop dying young because of (prescription) drug abuse?
DS: I don’t think it will ever stop completely as long as doctors are willing to write prescriptions for the drugs. But that’s why I wrote My Brother Elvis – to help other people with the truth even if the truth is difficult to bear. If someone can read the book, and be helped with addiction, then it will have been worth it.
If there’s anything I learned from Elvis – it’s to use your platform in a way that gives to others. When he was alive, he gave, and now it has been my turn to give back.
For more information on My Brother Elvis and how to purchase it, visit