Austin Butler Nearly Died Portraying Elvis Presley

Austin Butler became seriously ill from a virus after portraying Elvis Presley and was bedridden for a week.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

austin butler elvis

Austin Butler nearly died from a virus that simulates the fatal effects of appendicitis and was bedridden for a week shortly after production wrapped on Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. According to a recent interview in GQ, Austin Butler claimed that the process of portraying legendary singer Elvis Presley was so physically intense that it caused his body to revolt, saying “My body just started shutting down the day after I finished Elvis.” The actor has since recovered and won the Golden Globe for Best Actor for his portrayal of the American icon.

Austin Butler’s Elvis-related illness was not the only health disaster to strike the movie. Tom Hanks (who portrayed the singer’s longtime manager Colonel Tom Parker) and his wife Rita Wilson were both diagnosed with Covid-19 during filming, causing a shutdown and mandatory quarantine. During that period, Austin Butler stayed in Australia (where the film was being shot) and immersed himself in studying Elvis’s life, listening to only his music and reading only books about him.

The setback was actually extremely helpful in Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis, with the actor saying “I think the film would have been very different if we had started shooting at that point, and I’m grateful I had the time to let myself marinate.” He would also claim that he found himself connecting with the late singer on a level that he found difficult to disconnect from after the production had ended, particularly after learning that Elvis’s mother had died when he was 23, as had Butler’s own mother.

austin butler elvis

Notably, Austin Butler seems to have retained something of his approximation of a Deep South drawl that he used in Elvis, saying he is unable to revert to his native Southern California accent (Butler is from Anaheim, the home of Disneyland). This was particularly notable during his Golden Globes acceptance speech, with many online observers wondering exactly why he still sounded like that.

Sadly, only two days after Austin Butler won an award for portraying Elvis Presley, the singer’s only daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, died after being rushed to a hospital for cardiac arrest. Austin Butler, Lisa Marie’s mother Priscilla (soon to be the subject of a movie by Sofia Coppola herself), and Lisa Marie’s former husband Nicolas Cage all publicly expressed their shock and sadness at her passing.

Austin Butler’s next major role after Elvis will be to portray Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, the sequel to his 2021 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel. Although Butler’s character is generally portrayed as the antagonist to Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides (as well as his close relative), the actor has said he has approached the character as the hero of his own story. 

Dune: Part Two will also star returning actors Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, and Javier Bardem. In addition to Austin Butler, the film will also introduce new characters played by Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux, Tim Blake Nelson, and Christopher Walken.