From his deathbed 11 years ago, Elvis Presley's longtime Las Vegas physician Dr. Elias Ghanem shared a secret with his wife.
It involved a safe deposit box.
"I want you to know I have a bag of medicine," he said. "You're a smart lady. You'll know what to do with it one day."
Jody Ghanem is breaking her silence today on the 35th anniversary of Elvis' death, in defense of her late husband, one of the city's most famous celebrity doctors.
She agreed to show the Review-Journal the cache of pills under the condition that the names of three of the four doctors on the 17 pill containers not be published. It is no secret that Elvis' personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, came under the heaviest scrutiny after Elvis' death at Graceland. The entertainment icon, who was 42 when he died, had a record 837 consecutive performances at The International (later the Las Vegas Hilton and now known as LVH) from 1969 to 1976.
The pills, now back in the safe deposit box, include Dilaudid, a restricted and highly addictive opiate that had the nickname "drug store heroin." Others included Valium, Percodan, Demerol, Quaaludes and Sanilert, one of six prescribed by Nichopolous. On the label, dated Sept. 18, 1974, was the notation: "to keep sanity."
Her husband, the house physician at The International and former chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, kept taking away Elvis' pills. "That's why I have them," she said during an interview at Radio City Pizzeria at Tivoli Village.
Nichopolous was one of two Memphis doctors listed on the containers. One was from Palm Springs and another from Hollywood.
She said the amount of drugs indicated Elvis was doctor-shopping a la Michael Jackson.
"Elvis did exactly what Michael Jackson was doing. The parallels are so similar," she said.
Over the years, she said, Dr. Ghanem was unfairly lumped in with doctors who provided prescription drugs to Elvis.
"That stigma has always stayed with my husband. He truly tried to help Elvis but I think he was so far into his medication that it was difficult.
"One thing I know is Elias would never jeopardize his medical license or being a doctor. He loved his (medical career)," she added.
Elvis stayed weeks at a time at Dr. Ghanem's home at 2981 Bel Air Drive, his first residence in Las Vegas Country Club before moving to Augusta Drive, she said.
"I think they were trying to get him off medication - what you would call detox - and lose some weight," Jody Ghanem said. "Elias tried to get him in shape to perform."
Dr. Ghanem's brother, Nasser, a Las Vegas resident since 1976, on Wednesday confirmed he was at the Bel Air residence a half-dozen times helping Elias replace drugs in capsules with sugar powder to create placebos. When Elvis' bodyguards learned about the placebos, they snitched to Elvis, Nasser Ghanem said. "He got very upset but Elias calmed him down."
Elvis often suffered from "Vegas Throat," which threatened to keep him from performing, Nasser Ghanem said. His brother set up a humidifier to counter the dry throat condition.
To show his appreciation after Dr. Ghanem brought him through a nasty case of pneumonia, Elvis surprised him with a Stutz Bearcat sports car.
Before marrying Ghanem in 1983, four years after Liberace introduced them, Jody was a member of the Radio City Rockettes who performed with Liberace for about eight months.
Her dance partner is back in the news. A 1988 book written by Scott Thorson, Liberace's five-year partner, is being turned into an HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace," starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson.
Jody Ghanem named the family pizza business after Radio City because she performed there with the Rockettes. Also, it was the last venue where Liberace performed, one of his last wishes before the legendary showman died in 1987.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Correction: Due to a transposed letter in my Sunday column, I inadvertently had TV entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs going to work for KTNV-TV, Channel 13. The item was in reference to her being asked during an interview on KLAV-AM radio Friday if she was returning to her former station KSNV-TV, Channel 3. Jacobs, who is reportedly a cast member on the new reality show that was tentatively titled "Vegas Elite," said she could not comment.
Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola, clad in a gray suit with a yellow tie and bright red sox, dining at Yellowtail Japanese Restaurant & Lounge (Bellagio) on Sunday. ... Jennifer Lopez, in town this weekend for a stop on her world tour with Enrique Iglesias, is making a special appearance at Wet Republic on Saturday.
THE PUNCH LINE
"A man in Oregon walked away with minor injuries after he fell asleep in a dumpster and ended up in a trash compactor. It raises a lot of questions, and the answer to all of them is tequila." - Jimmy Fallon