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Elvis Presley spent much of his time with his bodyguards and entourage. They followed him on tours, vacations, and even between his houses. When one bodyguard, Sonny West, spent just a month away from Elvis, he was shocked upon his return. Elvis looked so unwell that West gathered other bodyguards to pray for him.

Elvis Presley’s appearance shocked his bodyguard

After Elvis’ divorce from Priscilla Presley, those close to him grew concerned for his well-being. He frequently saw a doctor for problems with his throat, took increasing doses of drugs, and slept very little. All of this began to wear on him.

“I tell you,” Sonny said in the book Elvis, What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy, “I was going nuts looking after him with his actions.”

Elvis has a towel around his neck and wears sunglasses. He walks with his bodyguards.
Elvis and bodyguards | Tom Wargacki/WireImage

In 1974, West was away from Elvis for a month to do work with Colonel Tom Parker. When he saw Elvis again ahead of a concert in College Park, Maryland, he hardly recognized the man.

“Sonny got an awful shock to see the condition he was in,” bodyguard Dave Hebler said. “He was so torn up physically and emotionally, the tears just came to Sonny’s eyes.”

Several of Elvis’ bodyguards gathered ahead of the show to pray for him.

“That’s right, we all prayed together,” says Dave. “And I promise you, I’m not a particularly religious person, but that’s how we felt about the man.”

A backing musician also took note of Elvis’ state

Keyboardist Tony Brown played his first show with Elvis in College Park. While he did not know Elvis nearly as well as West did, he was still full of concern for the singer.

“My first night was College Park, Maryland,” Brown said in the book Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. “I was scared, my hands were sweating, and I’m waiting backstage for Elvis to arrive. He pulls up in the car, and he fell out of the limousine, to his knees. People jump to help, and he pushed them away like, ‘Don’t help me.’”

Brown said nobody seemed sure if Elvis would be able to go on with the show.

“He walked onstage and held on to the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post,” Brown said. “Everybody’s looking at each other like, Is the tour gonna happen? Is he sick? Is it gonna be canceled.’”

Priscilla Presley had a similar reaction to Elvis’ bodyguard when saw him

Priscilla Presley had a similar reaction to West when she saw Elvis outside a California courthouse. She was there to finalize her divorce, but could hardly focus on anything but her worry for her ex-husband

“Accompanied by my sister Michelle, I waited in the courthouse in Santa Monica, California, for him to arrive, and when he did, I was shocked by his appearance,” she wrote in her book Elvis and Me. “His hands and face were swollen and puffy and he was perspiring profusely.”

A black and white picture of Priscilla and Elvis Presley leaving a courthouse together.
Elvis and Priscilla Presley | Bettmann/Contributor via Getty

Elvis ‘Embarrassed’ Priscilla and His New Girlfriend When He Talked About Them at a Concert

She spent the entire time wondering what had happened to Elvis.

“With Vernon [Presley] and Michelle and our attorneys following, we went into the judge’s chambers,” she wrote. “Elvis and I sat before the judge and held hands as he put us through the formalities of the divorce proceedings. I hardly heard a word, I was bewildered by Elvis’ physical condition and kept running my hands back and forth across his swollen hands.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.