By BRUCE DENNILL
Destined To Die Young is the definitive examination of why the world lost Elvis Presley on August 16, 1977, when he was only 42 years old. Author Sally Hoedel offers factual and scientific data, plus never-before published information she gained by interviewing many who knew Elvis personally. Hoedel examines Elvis Presley – devoted son, husband, father, and friend – while plowing through the negative hype and legendary myths surrounding the man. Elvis’ downward spiral of health struggles is presented and, for the first time, it is revealed that he suffered from disease in nine of 11 bodily systems, including five that were present from birth. Hoedel’s research provides answers to lingering questions about his death and dispels the long-held theory that abuse of prescription drugs is what killed Elvis. Readers may be surprised to learn that, based on Elvis Presley’s family history and the genes he was dealt, nothing could have
saved the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Sally Hoedel, a lifelong Elvis fan and historian, has a journalism degree from Michigan State University and is co-owner of Character Development and Leadership, a curriculum business. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband and their four daughters.
When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your latest book come to you?
This book was a coming together of a personal interest and a professional endeavour. As a journalist and a writer, I wanted an independent project that was driven by passion. As a lifelong Elvis fan, I always left every book with more questions than answers. I was always intrigued by how his mother died at a similar age and after a similar four-year period of degenerative health. Yet, she did not take the same prescription medication as he did. I knew there had to be more to Elvis’ young death than merely his problem with prescription medication. My sister had been a lifelong fan as well. When she passed away five years ago, she had all my old Elvis books in her room. When I was reunited with those books, which I had bought as a kid, I was reminded that Elvis’ maternal grandparents were first cousins and it left me wondering if that might just be the answer … the missing link. Was Elvis’ health compromised by close cousin marriage within the family tree?
Did it initially feel like something to commit to, or was that something that took time to develop?
I committed to it immediately on a personal level. I wanted to see if there as enough evidence to support my idea. Six months later, I knew I had to write this book because the evidence was overwhelming.
How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?
It was literally years of research and it is difficult to put into words just how much work that was. It began with a year of reading everything I could, and that aspect continued throughout the entire process because something was always popping up. For a very long time, one layer would lead to another necessary layer of research. For example, I had read most every book available on Elvis, but when it came time to write about his childhood, I had to read and research more about the era. I wanted to have an in-depth understanding of rural Mississippi during the era of his ancestors and the era of his childhood. History requires complete immersion in the time and place of what was happening so that’s another layer. Then, as the book progressed with each relative and their health struggles, it was another layer of research to understand the medical situations of each one. That involved reading more and meeting with doctors. Ultimately, gathering all of that information and standing back far enough to connect the dots in a logical way was a time-consuming but incredible process. Of course, all of that research led to the travel and the interviewing. I headed south from Michigan six times to meet the people who knew Elvis and to go to the places he had been. There are a few people that I had to interview over the phone, but I really wanted to interview in person as much as possible because it allows the interview to really become a conversation. Those conversations were the rewards for the hard work. Lastly, all the information gathered and all the details from interviews had to be noted. Every piece of information in this book was written on an index card along with source info, to the tune of about 2,000 index cards. Those cards were ordered and reordered a million times throughout the writing process as the story fell into place over the chapters.
If money was no object, what additional groundwork would you like to have completed?
Money was not the issue. For me, the real currency was time. I would have loved to have spent months pouring over documents that are housed at various libraries in Memphis and Tupelo. There just wasn’t time for that, as I have four young children. I did use those documents in an indirect way though, because writers before me cited them over the years. That is the one thing I wish I had had the time to do.
When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language), or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?
The goal for this book was to write eloquently, but also simplistically. The subject matter is tough and there is so much in this book. I didn’t want people to feel like a medical degree was necessary to understand the material. I have favorite writers for sure, but the tone and style I aim for is one of integrity. I want the words and the work to have total integrity. I believe that’s the most important thing when you research and write about a real person.
What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?
I have a book about Grace Kelly I’ve been wanting to read. Funny thing about writing a book is that it makes it almost impossible to read for leisure. I really miss that!
Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?
Elvis, of course! I intend to write a series of at least three books on different aspects of Elvis. His story in fascinating. His struggles were real and so was his unmatched success.