Dead famous DNA – a new documentary series from channel 4 – claims to have made a major breakthrough in explaining the mystery surrounding Elvis Presley’s premature death.
The controversial three-part series sees scientist mark Evans tracking down the relics and remains of some of history’s most famous figures, using analysis of their DNA to answer some of the mysteries that have persisted around them.
The first episode in the three-part series sees Evans track down strands of Presley’s hair to uncover crucial evidence which links the king of rock n roll’s death to an underlying heart condition – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Travelling to Presley’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee to obtain hair samples from Tom B Morgan Jr, a friend of the singer’s barber, Evans paid $2,000 for strands purported to have been captured in a towel around Elvis’s shoulders.
The hair sample allowed Professor Stephen Schuster at Pennsylvania State University to sequence Presley’s genome, 37 years after his death.
“This genome of a dead person who died a long time ago is the best genome we have ever done,” said Schuster. “In fact we can actually decipher nearly 90 per cent of his genome… This is the blueprint of genetic information of what makes a person.”
The results – analysed by Dr Stephen Kingsmore in Kansas – showed a number of mutations known as “variants” which account for Presley’s well-documented migraines, bad eyesight and obesity. But, crucially, the genetic data also revealed a variant known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a heart condition which causes the thickening of the heart and weakening of the heart muscle that may well provide the answer to the legendary crooner’s mysterious death. Symptoms include an irregular heartbeat, fatigue, fainting and high blood pressure – all signs that Presley displayed towards the end of his life.
“Elvis and his doctor have both been blamed over the years for his premature death,” said Evans. “It was thought his overeating or overdosing on drugs had killed him. Whilst those addictions would not have helped, this new evidence suggests Elvis may have a flaw in his DNA and his early death was his genetic destiny.”
Dr Kingsmore added, “There had been so much speculation about cause of death, and so much ill spoken of his lifestyle, and we had this intriguing finding that possibly Elvis actually had a medical illness, and all of the stuff about how he killed himself with his lifestyle might have been very unfair.”
Three years in the making, Dead Famous DNA has seen Evans travel across the globe seeking out body parts from famous figures in order to use science to shed new light on their lives and deaths. Although potentially illegal in the UK, this testing is permitted in a number of countries – including 45 states in the US.
The series – which begins on Channel 4 this Wednesday 26 March- will see Evans explore relics claimed to belong to high profile figures including Charles Darwin, Marilyn Monroe, King George III and, most controversially, Adolf Hitler.