It was thirty years ago today that Elvis Aaron Presley, The King of Rock 'n Roll, died. Elvis was discovered dead on the floor of his bathroom at Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.
Elvis' untimely death was tragic, as were the later years of his life. It is sad to realize a person with so much talent and ability, whose singing and performances brought so much joy and happiness to his fans, was consumed by his demons.
It has been debated exactly what caused his death. Some reports say drugs, one says a heart attack. There is no doubt however, Elvis was seriously overweight, he had an enlarged heart and had abused prescription drugs for years. What is certain is that he died too young, likely sped along by poor health caused by his excesses.
I was attending a Navy aviation A School in Millington, TN, a little town about twenty miles from Memphis, when Elvis died. At the announcement of his death, Memphis became a city turned upside down. Every radio station, of every format, played Elvis songs around the clock for days. Television stations had Elvis movie marathons. Considering I was going to classes starting at 7:00 AM, I was staying up too late watching them.
No, I wasn't, and am not now, a rabid Elvis fan, especially compared to some of his fans and followers. I will admit to owning a CD of Elvis' greatest hits. I can appreciate the fact that he was an entertainment star as big as any of his era. A singer who changed the face and sound of music; that would be copied and emulated, and set the stage for many singers who followed.
Elvis was often criticized for various aspects of his singing and music and style of some of his performances. I'm no audiophile, but even I can tell the boy could flat out sing. His acting was obviously nothing that was going to win him any awards. I'd say they were simply vehicles to sell his songs and rake in some box office money from his adoring fans. Despite the campy nature of his movies, I always enjoyed watching them.
Whatever one thinks of Elvis as a singer, performer and person, they can't deny his impact on American pop culture during his career. Nor can they deny the devotion of his ardent fans. Today there will be probably millions of his fans who will observe, in some way, the anniversary of his death. A shipmate in the Navy was from near Tupelo, Mississippi. Told me that every year on that day, at the time Elvis was discovered dead, his sister took five minutes and cried.
The King is dead; long live The King.
Updated Aug. 16, 2007 @13:45: As is often the case concerning American music icons, Power Line has an excellent post about Elvis - Thinking About Elvis. The post relates a somewhat bizarre event about Elvis meeting President Nixon to pitch the idea of enlisting Elvis as something of an undercover agent to infiltrate anti-American movements within the entertainment industry.
What is striking about the story Power Line tells is Elvis' patriotism and deep love of America. Also, a letter of introduction to the President where it sounds as if Elvis actually thinks the President might not know who he is.
Dear Mr. President
First I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and Have Great Respect for your office. [...]
Some might see that as odd. I read it as a touch of humility, even from an entertainment star of Elvis' status, not automatically assuming that the President of the United States would know who he was.
Another passage in the Power Line post that really struck me, was when Elvis was flying to D.C. and had told his bodyguard to get some cash for the trip -
Bodyguard Sonny West would fly in from Memphis to meet them. Elvis asked Schilling to take out some cash for the trip, which Elvis ended up giving away to soldiers returning from service in Vietnam.Flawed, he might have been. It's obvious there was more to the man than just his musical stardom and the personal weaknesses.