Here's How Joining The Military Ruined Elvis' Life

Once upon a time, there was this thing called The Draft. Upon reaching a certain age, young male citizens were brought into the loving embrace of the United States Armed Forces. With roots in ancient Mesopotamia, says History, it started in this country during the Civil War, and of course continued during times of armed conflict, but it was also a part of the national fabric in times of peace. You got your draft notice, you showed up for your physical, and all things being equal (and they usually were), congratulations. For the next two years, you will have to make almost no decisions for yourself. Including what to wear to work.

Lots of people will say that the military gave them a sense of purpose, discipline, an ability to follow directions, even physical health. By the time he was drafted, Elvis Presley already had several of those qualities down — he certainly had a strong work ethic and even a sense of humility. Already a megastar with a home called Graceland, he wanted to be treated like an ordinary soldier — an ordinary soldier who bought television sets for the post where he served in Germany, donated his Army pay to charity, and purchased new fatigues for everyone in his unit. That kind of ordinary soldier.

He became serious about karate

But at least four things happened during his military service that had ramifications for the rest of his life.

The first was the death of his mother, Gladys, while he was overseas, says Biography. Elvis was deeply devoted to his family — he was an only child — and especially bound to his mother, for whom he made his first recording as a gift. He mourned her deeply, perhaps even feeling guilty that he was away when she died. The second part of that time was his discovery of karate. He quickly became immersed in the study of the martial art, and continued that study and practice when he returned to the United States; he even opened his own karate studio, the Tennessee Karate Institute. Third up was meeting his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, daughter of one of the Army officers in Germany and all of 14 years old at the time. (He wanted someone he could "train." Plus, she reminded him of his mother. You do the math.)

He met his future wife while serving

The fourth gift Elvis received from his Army life was an introduction to the benefits of amphetamines — uppers. Some say he was introduced by one of his sergeants — stay alert, stay awake, soldier. Your life depends on your vigilance! And Elvis found them very, very good, for the rest of his too-short life.

He wasn't the only one in the entertainment business who eventually fell into the upper/downer drug web. Johnny Cash famously battled the addiction, as did Roger Miller, according to his obituary in the Tulsa World. In Elvis's case, it was an early-warning death warrant. According to Dr. Howard Markel, writing for PBS, Elvis died indirectly from long-term drug abuse, including opiates, tranquilizers, and picker-uppers. He died in his bathroom, and while a heart attack was the direct cause, he was probably trying to accomplish a bowel movement — his pharmaceutical intake would have caused chronic constipation — and the straining was a significant straw breaking that particular camel's back. An autopsy revealed that Presley's "blood was found to contain very high levels of the opiates Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, and codeine — as well as Quaaludes," wrote Dr. Markel. There were also signs of long-term constipation, diabetes, and glaucoma. At least he didn't get that from the Army.