"...When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I ever dreamed, has come true a hundred times...I'd like to say that I learned very early in life that 'Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain't got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend - without a song.' So I keep singing a song..." -Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 August 16, 1977), was an American singer, musician and actor. He is a cultural icon, often known simply as Elvis; also "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", or simply "The King".
Presley began his career as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing "black" and "white" sounds, made him popular and controversial as did his uninhibited stage and television performances. He recorded songs in the rock and roll genre, with tracks like "Jailhouse Rock" and "Hound Dog" later embodying the style. Elvis Presley had a versatile voice and had unusually wide success encompassing other genres, including gospel, blues, ballads and pop. To date, he is the only performer to have been inducted into four separate music halls of fame.
In the sixties, Elvis Presley made the majority of his thirty-three movies mainly poorly reviewed musicals. 1968 saw a critically-acclaimed return to live music, followed by performances in Las Vegas and across the U.S. Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings and recordings sales. He is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music. His death, at the age of 42, shocked his fans worldwide. Presley's father, Vernon (b. April 10, 1916, Fulton, Mississippi, d. June 26, 1979, Memphis, Tennessee) had several low-paid jobs, including sharecropping and truck driving. His mother, Gladys Love Smith (b. April 25, 1912, Pontotoc County, Mississippi, d. August 14, 1958, Memphis) was a sewing machine operator. They met in Tupelo, Mississippi, but eloped to Pontotoc County and were married on June 17, 1933.
Elvis Presley was born in a two-room house, built by his father, in Tupelo, Mississippi. He was the second of identical twins his brother was stillborn and given the names Jesse Garon. He grew up as an only child and "was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother". The family lived just above the poverty line in East Tupelo and attended the Assembly of God church. In 1938, Presley's father, seen by some as unambitious and lazy, was convicted and jailed for an eight-dollar check forgery. He was released after serving eight months, but this event deeply influenced the life of the young family. During her husband's absence, Gladys lost the family home. At school, Elvis Presley was teased by his fellow classmates; they threw "things at him rotten fruit and stuff because he was different, because he was quiet and he stuttered and he was a mama's boy". Aged ten, he made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, the young Elvis had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep". He won second prize.
In 1946, Presley's mother took Elvis to Tupelo Hardware to get him a birthday present. Although he wanted a rifle, his mother wanted him to get a guitar. He had earned money from doing small errands, but did not have enough to buy the $7.90 guitar, so she paid the difference. Two years later, the Presleys moved to Memphis, allegedly because Vernon as well as needing work had to escape the law for transporting "bootlegger" liquor. Another resident, Johnny Burnette, recalled: "Wherever Elvis went he'd have his guitar slung across his back... He used to go down to the fire station and sing to the boys there... [H]e'd go in to one of the cafes or bars... Then some folks would say: 'Let's hear you sing, boy.'"
Elvis Presley attended L. C. Humes High school and occasionally worked evenings to boost the family income. He began to grow his sideburns longer and dress in the wild, flashy clothes of Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. Presley stood out, especially in the conservative Deep South of the 1950s and he was mocked and bullied for it. He enrolled in the school's ROTC and Christmas, 1952 saw Elvis Presley perform in the "Annual Minstrel Show" sponsored by the Humes High Band. Presley received most applause he sang "Cold Cold Icy Fingers" and gave an encore of "Till I Waltz Again With You". After graduation, Presley was still a rather shy person, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home". His third job was driving a truck for the Crown Electric Company. He began wearing his hair longer with a "ducktail" the style of truck drivers at that time.
Initial influences came exclusively through his family's attendance at the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal Holiness church. Rolling Stone magazine wrote that: "Gospel pervaded Elvis' character and was a defining and enduring influence all of his days." The young Elvis Presley listened a lot to local radio; his first musical hero was Mississippi Slim, a hillbilly singer with a radio show on Tupelos WELO. Presley performed occasionally on Slims Saturday morning show, Singin and Pickin Hillbilly. "He was crazy about music... Thats all he talked about," recalled his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slims younger brother. "I think gospel sort of [inspired] him to be in music, but then my brother helped carry it on." Before he was a teenager, music was already Elvis Presleys "consuming passion". J. R. Snow, son of 1940s country superstar Hank Snow, later recalled that Presley even as a young man knew all of Hank Snows songs, "even the most obscure".
The family's move to Memphis expanded Elvis Presley's musical horizons. He became a regular at record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths playing old records and new releases for hours. He attended services at the East Trigg Baptist Church (The pastor, the Reverend Herbert W. Brewster, was a composer of numerous gospel songs). Memphis Symphony Orchestra concerts at Overton Park were another Presley favorite, along with the Metropolitan Opera. His small record collection included Mario Lanza and Dean Martin. Presley later said, "I just loved music. Music period." Another major influence was the strong tradition of blues and soul music in Memphis. Elvis Presley went to blues and hillbilly venues and was an audience member at the all-night black and white "gospel sings" downtown. Many of Elvis' recordings were inspired by black Memphis composers and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King. King says that he "knew Elvis before he was popular. He used to come around and be around us a lot... on Beale Street".
On July 18, 1953, Presley went to the Memphis Recording Service at the Sun Record Company (now commonly known as Sun Studios). He paid $3.98 to record the first of two double-sided 'demo' acetates "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Presley reportedly gave the acetate to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present, though the Presleys didn't own a record player at the time. Returning to Sun Studios on January 4, 1954, he recorded a second acetate, "I'll Never Stand in Your Way"/"It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You". Sun Records founder Sam Phillips had already cut the first records by blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker. He thought a combination of black blues and boogie-woogie music might become very popular among white people if presented in the right way. In the spring, Presley auditioned for an amateur gospel quartet, The Songfellows, and a professional band. Both groups turned him down.
Phillips had acquired a demo record "Without Love (There Is Nothing)". Unable to identify the demo's vocalist, his assistant Marion Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver and she called him on June 26, 1954. Elvis Presley was not able to do justice to the song (though he would record it years later). Phillips did ask the young singer to perform some of the many other songs he knew and he invited local Western swing musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (slap bass) to check Presley out. Scotty and Bill auditioned Presley on Sunday, July 4, 1954, at Moore's house. Neither musician was overly impressed with the young singer, but they agreed a studio session would be useful to see what they had. During a break at the studios on July 5, Elvis Presley began "acting the fool" with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)", a blues song. When the other two musicians joined in, Phillips got them to restart and began recording. This was the bright, upbeat sound he had been looking out for. Black remarked: "Damn. Get that on the radio and they'll run us out of town." The group recorded four songs during that session, including Bill Monroe's Blue Moon of Kentucky, a bluegrass waltz. After an early take, Phillips can be heard on tape saying: "Fine, man. Hell, that's different that's a pop song now, just about."
To gauge professional and public reaction, Phillips took several acetates of the session to DJ Dewey Phillips (no relation) at Memphis radio station WHBQ (The Red, Hot And Blue show). "That's All Right" subsequently received its first play. A week later, Sun had received some 6000 advanced orders for "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon of Kentucky", which was released on July 19, 1954. From August 18 through December 8, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" was consistently higher in the charts, then both sides began to chart across the South, from Virginia to Texas. Moore and Black left their band, The Starlight Wranglers, to work full-time with Presley. They began regular live performances in Memphis by promoting Elvis Presley's first Sun single. They played at the Bon Air, a club used by hard-drinking lovers of hillbilly music. Johnny Cash later recalled Presley playing during breaks at the Eagles Nest club. At the Overton Park Shell (July 30, 1954), Elvis Presley, Moore, and Black were billed as The Blue Moon Boys, with Slim Whitman headlining. Presley is said to have been so nervous during this show that his legs shook uncontrollably. His wide-legged pants emphasized his leg movements, apparently causing the young women in the audience to go "crazy". Though initially uncertain about what caused the fans to scream, Elvis Presley consciously incorporated similar movements into future shows. DJ and promoter Bob Neal, who had been approached by Sam Phillips to get Presley on the Overton Park bill, was now the trio's manager (taking over from Scotty Moore).
Elvis Presley appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, on October 2; Hank Snow introduced Presley on stage. He performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" but received only a polite response. Afterwards, the singer was allegedly told: "Boy, youd better keep driving that truck." Country music promoter and manager Tillman Franks booked Elvis Presley's first appearance on Louisiana Hayride (October 16, 1954). Before making the booking, Franks never having seen Presley referred to him as "that new black singer with the funny name". During the first set, the reaction was muted, but the second show had a younger audience and Franks advised Elvis Presley to "Let it all go!" House drummer D.J. Fontana, who had worked in strip clubs, was able to use beats to accentuate Presley's movements and along with Bill Black's usual enthusiastic stage antics the crowd was more responsive. Several major record labels had shown interest in signing Presley. On November 21, 1955, Parker and Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $35,000. To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally brought Elvis Presley to television (In March 1955, Presley had failed a TV audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts). He had the singer booked for six of the Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show (CBS), beginning January 28, 1956, when he was introduced by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative deal with Milton Berle (NBC) for two appearances. On January 27, Elvis Presley's first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel", was released. By April it reached number one in the U.S. and would sell a million copies. On March 23, RCA released the first Presley album: Elvis Presley. As with the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were songs by or from country artists.
From April 23, he had a two-week booking at the Venus Room of the New Frontier Hotel, Las Vegas billed this time as "the Atomic Powered Singer". His performances were badly received, by critics and guests (it was an older, more conservative audience). However, Presley, Scotty and Bill saw Freddie Bell and the Bellboys live in Vegas, and liked their version of Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog". By May 16, Elvis Presley had added the song to his own act. Soon after an April 3 appearance for The Milton Berle Show, shot onboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego, Presley, Moore and Black took a chartered flight to Nashville for a recording session. The pilot got lost and further mishaps along the way left all three badly shaken. After more hectic touring, Presley returned to The Milton Berle Show on June 5 and performed "Hound Dog" (without his guitar). After singing it uptempo, he then began a slower version, occasionally using the microphone stand as a support. His exaggerated, straight-legged shuffle stirred the audience as did his vigorous leg shaking and hip thrusts in time to the beat. Elvis Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy even eclipsing the 'communist threat' head-lines prevalent at the time. The next day's press used such words as "vulgar" and "obscene" because of the strong sexual content perceived in his act. Presley was obliged to explain himself on the local New York City TV show Hy Gardner Calling: "Rock and roll music, if you like it, and you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I have to move around. I can't stand still. I've tried it, and I can't do it".
The Milton Berle Show appearances drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance, in New York. Allen announced: "... We want to do a show the whole family can watch and enjoy. And thats what we always do." After Allen introduced "the new Elvis" (in white bow tie and black tails), he remarked: "You are certainly being a good sport about the whole thing." Presley then sang "Hound Dog" to a top hat and bow tie-wearing bassett hound sat on a pedestal (the performance lasted less than one minute). According to author Jake Austen, "the way Steve Allen treated Elvis Presley was his federal crime. Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd... [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition..." The day after (July 2), Presley, Scotty, and Bill recorded the single "Hound Dog", making thirty takes before Elvis was satisfied. Scotty Moore later said they were "all angry about their treatment the previous night". (Presley often referred to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career.) A few days later, Elvis Presley made a "triumphant" outdoor appearance in Memphis at which he announced: "You know, those people in New York are not gone change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight." Though Presley had been unhappy with the Steve Allen appearance, Allen's show had, for the first time, beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the Sunday night ratings, prompting a previously critical Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000. Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Elvis Presley on The Steve Allen Show and their first recording session with him was July 2, for the recording of "Any Way You Want Me". The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was seen by an estimated 55-60 million viewers. During the second, Elvis Presley only had to shake his legs to get screams from the audience, which a bemused Sullivan didn't notice him doing when stood next to the singer. On the third show, the family-minded Sullivan censored Presley's "gyrations": he was shown only above the waist. According to the show's director, Marlo Lewis, Sullivan told him that Presley was "hangin' some kind of device in the crotch of his pants" and that it was "waving back and forth" when the singer moved. Sullivan said: "We can't have that on a Sunday night. That's a church night". Although Lewis ordered camera two to film only Elvis Presley's chest and head, he never believed the "device" was there at all. Despite his misgivings, Sullivan still declared at the end of the show: "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you... you're thoroughly all right." On November 16, Presley's first movie Love Me Tender was released. It was panned by the critics, but did well at the box office. On December 20, 1957, Presley received his army draft notice. Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures had already spent $350,000 on Presley's latest film King Creole and they feared the consequences of suspending or canceling the project. The Memphis Draft Board granted Elvis Presley a deferment so the movie could be finished. On March 24, 1958, he was finally inducted and completed basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, before being posted to Friedberg, Germany.
Presley joined the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor. He had chosen not to receive any special treatment and was respected for not joining 'Special Services', which would have allowed him to avoid certain duties and maintain his public profile. His service still received massive media coverage, with much speculation echoing Presley's own concerns about his enforced absence doing irreparable damage to his career. However, early in 1958, RCA producer Steve Sholes and Hill and Range "song searcher" Freddy Bienstock had both pushed for recording sessions and strong song material, the aim being to release regular hit singles during Elvis Presley's two-year hiatus. The hit singles and six albums duly followed during that period.
In Germany, Presley apparently began taking pills. "[A] sergeant had introduced him to [amphetamines] when they were on maneuvers at Grafenwhr... it seemed like half the guys in the company were taking them." Friends around Presley also began taking them, "if only to keep up with Elvis, who was practically evangelical about their benefits". The army also introduced Presley to karate something he was to study seriously and even, eventually, incorporate into his live performances. As Elvis Presley's fame grew, his mother who had always liked alcohol began to gain weight and drink excessively. She had wanted her son to succeed, "but not so that he would be apart from her. The hysteria of the crowd frightened her". Doctors diagnosed hepatitis. Her condition worsened and Presley was granted emergency leave in August of 1958. Shortly after his return to Fort Hood, his mother died, aged forty-six. Presley was distraught, "crying hysterically" and eyewitnesses say he was "grieving almost constantly" for days. Her favorite gospel group, The Blackwood Brothers, with whom Elvis had sung, performed at her funeral.
Presley returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant (E-5) on March 5. Recording sessions in March and April yielded some of his best-selling songs - including "It's Now or Never". Although some tracks were uptempo, none could be described as "rock and roll". Most found their way on to an album Elvis is Back! described by one critic as "a triumph on every level... It was as if Elvis had invented his own brand of music, broken down the barriers of genre and prejudice to express everything he heard in all the kinds of music he loved". The album was also notable because of Homer Boots Randolph's acclaimed saxophone solo during the blues standard "Reconsider Baby".
Elvis Presley was a big movie fan. Interviewed while in the Army, he said on many occasions that "more than anything, he wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor". His manager, with an eye on long-term earnings, negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis. The contract gave Presley a fee for each role and a percentage of any profits. The films were usually musicals and further marked his transition from rock and roll rebel to all-round family entertainer. The singer withdrew from concerts and television appearances, except for The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis (1960) and two charity concerts (in Memphis and Pearl Harbor, 1961). Although Presley was praised by directors, like Michael Curtiz, as polite and hardworking (and as having an exceptional memory for both his and the other actors' lines), "he was definitely not the most talented actor around". The Presley vehicles, and the AIP beach movies (mainly made for an early sixties teenage audience) were generally viewed by critics as a "pantheon of bad taste". The scripts of his movies "were all the same, the songs progressively worse". Others noted that the songs seemed to be "written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll".
Elvis Presley movies were nevertheless popular and he "became a film genre of his own". Elvis on celluloid was the only chance to see him in the absence of live appearances, especially outside of the U.S. (The only time he ever toured outside of the U.S. was in Canada in 1957). His Blue Hawaii even "boosted the new state's tourism. Some of his most enduring and popular songs came from those [kind of] movies", like "Can't Help Falling in Love", "Return to Sender" and "Viva Las Vegas". His films during the 1960s "had grossed about $130 million, and he had sold a hundred million records, which had made $150 million". By 1967, Parker had negotiated a management contract that give him 50% of Presley's earnings. Over the years, much has been written about the suspect nature of Parker's business practices. His dubious origins and gambling addictions in particular and the subsequent need to keep Presley 'commercial' may well have adversely affected the course of Presley's career. Marty Lacker, a lifelong friend and a member of the so-called Memphis Mafia, regarded Parker as a "hustler and scam artist" who abused Presley's reliance on him. However, Priscilla Presley noted that "Elvis detested the business side of his career. He would sign a contract without even reading it." Lacker did acknowledge however that Parker was a master promoter.
Elvis Presley's father distrusted the members of the 'Memphis Mafia'; he thought they collectively exercised an unhealthy influence over his son. "Surrounded by [their] parasitic presence... it was no wonder" that as the singer "slid into addiction and torpor, no one raised the alarm: to them, Elvis was the bank, and it had to remain open." Author Jerry Eden says that "the guys" didn't like Priscilla Presley. "When Priscilla came on the scene, she made them move out of Graceland, keeping just a couple of them in the house to act as bodyguards." Many of Presley's friends in the 'Memphis Mafia' did not like Larry Geller, a hairdresser who appeared on the scene in 1964, after the filming for Roustabout. Unlike some of Presley's down-to-earth and generally uncultured buddies, Geller was into 'spiritual studies' and the meaning of life. From their first conversation, Geller recalls: "Elvis looked as if he'd been slapped. As he shook his head from side to side, he said, '... Larry, I don't believe it. I mean, what you're talking about is what I secretly think about all the time... there has to be a purpose... there's got to be a reason... why I was chosen to be Elvis Presley.'" He then poured out his heart in "an almost painful rush of words and emotions", telling Geller about his mother and the hollowness of his Hollywood life, things he could not share with anyone around him. Thereafter, Presley voraciously read books Geller supplied, on religion, philosophy and mysticism. Perhaps most tellingly, he confided to Geller: "I swear to God, no one knows how lonely I get and how empty I really feel." Presley would be preoccupied by such matters for much of his life, taking trunkloads of books with him on tour.
Priscilla (ne Beaulieu) had stayed with Elvis Presley during the 1960s (they had first met in Germany, when she was only fourteen). They married on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas. A daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later. Presley was one of the highest paid actors during the sixties, but times were changing. "[The] Elvis Presley film was becoming pass. Young people were tuning in, dropping out and doing acid. Musical acts like The Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin and many others were dominating the airwaves. Elvis Presley was not considered as cool as he once was." Priscilla recalled: "He blamed his fading popularity on his humdrum movies" and "... loathed their stock plots and short shooting schedules." She also noted: "He could have demanded better, more substantial scripts, but he didn't." In 1964, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole had starred in Hal Wallis' Becket. To Elvis Presley's anger and dismay, Wallis admitted to the press that the financing of such quality productions was only possible by making the commercially successful Presley vehicles. He branded Wallis "a double-dealing sonofabitch", realizing there had never been any intention to let Presley develop into a serious actor.
In spite of the formulaic movie songs, Presley did make noteworthy recordings, including "Suspicion", "(You're The) Devil in Disguise", "It Hurts Me" and "Guitar Man". The decade's output was also memorable for his two gospel albums: His Hand in Mine and How Great Thou Art. The latter won Presley his first Grammy award. Chart statistics for mid-1968 show that Elvis Presley's recording career was floundering only die-hard fans were buying his soundtrack recordings. He had become deeply dissatisfied with the direction his career had taken, especially a movie schedule that all but eliminated creative recording. Many fans and others have acknowledged Presley's sexual attraction and photogenic looks. Steve Binder recalled from 1968: "... when Elvis came back from vacation in Hawaii... he was awesome looking. I mean, I'm heterosexual. I'm straight as an arrow and I got to tell you, you stop, whether you're male or female, to look at him. He was that good looking. And if you never knew he was a superstar, it wouldn't make any difference; if he'd walked in the room, you'd know somebody special was in your presence."
Reference has often been made to Presley's allegedly numerous sexual conquests. (According to eyewitness Byron Raphael, who worked for Presley's manager, the star even had a secret one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe.) In reality, it is unclear whether Elvis Presley actually had sex with most of the women he dated. His early girlfriends Judy Spreckels and June Juanico say that they did not. Raphael and Alanna Nash have stated that the star "would never put himself inside one of these girls..." Peggy Lipton claims that he was "virtually impotent" with her (She attributed this to his drug misuse). Cassandra Peterson (best known as "Elvira") says she knew Presley for only one night, but all they did was talk. Priscilla Presley and biographer Suzanne Finstad also claim that the singer wasn't overly active sexually.
Other women, like Cybill Shepherd, have said they had full sex with the singer. Ann-Margret (Elvis Presley's co-star in Viva Las Vegas) refers to Presley as her "soulmate", but has revealed little about their long-rumored romance. Presley dated many female movie co-stars, apparently for publicity purposes. Lori Williams dated him for a while in 1964. She says their "courtship was not some bizarre story. It was very sweet and Elvis was the perfect gentleman". She also claims that Ann-Margret "was the love of his life". A publicity campaign about the romance between Elvis Presley and Margret is said to have been launched during the 1963 filming of Viva Las Vegas, which helped to increase Margret's popularity.
The vast majority of books on Presley (including both by Guralnick) contain details of his many romances, including those while he was married. With regard to having sex, Guralnick concurs with others: "he wasn't really interested". Divorcing in 1973, Presley became increasingly isolated and overweight, with prescription drugs apparently prescribed with little question taking their toll on his health, mood and his stage act. Despite this, Presley was still capable of critically acclaimed performances; his "thundering" live version of "How Great Thou Art" won him a Grammy award in 1974. He continued to play to sell-out crowds and release hit records; a 1975 tour ended with a concert in Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans. As time progressed, Presley became even more obese he would diet excessively and then binge eat. "[H]e no longer had the motivation to lose his extra poundage... he became self-conscious of his appearance, his self-confidence before the audience declined. Headlines such as 'Elvis Battles Middle Age' and 'Time Makes Listless Machine of Elvis' were not uncommon." According to Professor Marjorie Garber, when Elvis Presley made his later appearances in Las Vegas, he appeared "heavier, in pancake makeup, wearing a white jumpsuit with an elaborate jeweled belt and cape, crooning pop songs to a microphone ... [He] had become Liberace. Even his fans were now middle-aged matrons and blue-haired grandmothers, who praised him as a good son who loved his mother; Mother's Day became a special holiday for Elvis's fans."
Almost throughout the 1970s, RCA had been increasingly concerned about making money from Elvis Presley material: they often had to rely on live recordings because of problems getting him to attend studio sessions. RCA's mobile studio was occasionally dispatched to "Graceland" in the hope of capturing an inspired vocal performance. Once in a studio, his interest was sometimes lacking and he was easily distracted. Much of this behavior has been linked to the enduring problems of his health and pill taking. Presley's decline continued. A journalist recalled: "Elvis Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self... he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts." In Alexandria, Louisiana, a journalist complained that the singer was on stage for less than an hour and "was impossible to understand". In Baton Rouge, Elvis Presley didnt go on stage at all. He was unable to get out of his hotel bed and the rest of the tour was cancelled. Fans, too, Guralnick relates, "were becoming increasingly voluble about their disappointment, but it all seemed to go right past Elvis, whose world was now confined almost entirely to his room and his [spiritualism] books". In Knoxville, Tennessee (May 20), "there was no longer any pretense of keeping up appearances... The idea was simply to get Elvis out onstage and keep him upright for the hour he was scheduled to perform". Thereafter, Presley struggled through every show. Despite his obvious problems, appearances in Omaha, Nebraska and Rapid City, South Dakota were recorded for an upcoming album and a CBS-TV special: Elvis In Concert.
Rick Stanley (a step-brother) recalls that Presley was almost bedridden during his last year. "We'd fly into a city and he'd go right into bed as soon as we got there. We'd have to get him up to do the show." In Rapid City, "he was so nervous on stage that he could hardly talk... He was undoubtedly painfully aware of how he looked, and he knew that in his condition, he could not perform any significant movement. He looked, moved, and gestured like an overweight old man with crippling arthritis". A cousin, Billy Smith, recalled how Presley would sit in his room and chat, recounting things like his favourite Monty Python sketches and past japes, but "mostly there was a grim obsessiveness... a paranoia about people, germs... future events, that put Billy in mind on more than one occasion of Howard Hughes". A book was published the first expos to detail Elvis Presley's years of drug misuse. Written with input from three of Presley's "Memphis Mafia", the book was the authors' revenge for them being sacked and a plea to get Presley to face up to reality. The singer "was devastated by the book. Here were his close friends who had written serious stuff that would affect his life. He felt betrayed".
Presley's final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena, (June 26). August 17, 1977, was to be the start of another tour. However, at "Graceland" the day before, Presley was found on the floor of his bathroom by fiance, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Elvis Presley had "stumbled or crawled several feet before he died". He was officially pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at the Baptist Memorial Hospital. His funeral was a national media event. Hundreds of thousands of fans, the press and celebrities lined the streets hoping to see the open casket in "Graceland" or to witness the funeral. Amongst the mourners were Ann-Margret (who had remained close to Presley) and his ex-wife. U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued a statement. Presley was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, Memphis, next to his mother. After an attempt to steal the body, his and his mother's remains were reburied at "Graceland" in the Meditation Gardens.
Towards the end of his life, Elvis Presley had many health problems, some of them chronic. "Elvis had had an enlarged heart for a long time. That, together with his drug habit, caused his death. But he was difficult to diagnose; it was a judgment call." Presley first took drugs in the army, taking amphetamines to stay awake on late shifts, though there are claims that pills of some form were first given to him by Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips. In Elvis and Me, his ex-wife Priscilla writes that by 1962, Elvis Presley was taking placidyls to combat severe insomnia in ever increasing doses and later took Dexedrine to counter the sleeping pills' after effects. Over time, she saw "problems in Elvis' life, all magnified by taking prescribed drugs". Presley's personal physician, Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, has said: "Elvis's problem was that he didn't see the wrong in it. He felt that by getting it from a doctor, he wasn't the common everyday junkie getting something off the street. He... thought that as far as medications and drugs went, there was something for everything."
According to Guralnick: "[D]rug use was heavily implicated in this unanticipated death of a middle-aged man with no known history of heart disease...no one ruled out the possibility of anaphylactic shock brought on by the codeine pills...to which he was known to have had a mild allergy...There was little disagreement in fact between the two principal laboratory reports and analyses filed two months later, with each stating a strong belief that the primary cause of death was polypharmacy, and the BioScience Laboratories report...indicating the detection of fourteen drugs in Elvis' system, ten in significant quantity." The judgement of some in the medical profession has also been seriously questioned. Although Dr. Nichopoulos, was exonerated with regard to Elvis Presley's death, "In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had written 199 prescriptions totalling more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics: all in Elvis' name. On January 20, 1980, the board found him guilty of overprescription, but decided that he was not unethical [because he claimed he'd been trying to wean the singer off the drugs]." His license was suspended and he was given three years' probation. In July 1995, his license was permanently revoked after the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners found that he had improperly dispensed drugs to a number of his patients. In 1994, the autopsy into the death of Presley was re-opened. Coroner Dr Joseph Davis declared: "There is nothing in any of the data that supports a death from drugs. In fact, everything points to a sudden, violent heart attack." However, there is little doubt that long-term drug misuse caused his heart to fail. In 1971, Elvis Presley was named 'One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation' by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Jaycees). That summer, the City of Memphis changed the name of the section of Highway 51 South in front of "Graceland" to Elvis Presley Boulevard, and he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization that presents Grammy awards).
Elvis Presley won three Grammy awards, all for gospel performances. He had fourteen nominations during his career. He is the only performer to have been inducted into four music 'Halls of Fame': the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1997), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1998), and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001). In 1984, he received the W. C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation and the Academy of Country Musics first Golden Hat Award. In 1987, he received the American Music Awards first posthumous presentation of the Award of Merit. In 1993, Presley's image appeared on a United States postage stamp. In a 2006 survey for the USPS, the Elvis stamp was the most popular. In 1994, the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" was recognized with its re-release, which made the charts around the world, making top three in the UK. Interest in Presley's recordings continued with the 2002 World Cup, when Nike used a Junkie XL remix of his "A Little Less Conversation" (credited as "Elvis Vs JXL") in TV commercials featuring international soccer stars. It topped the charts in over twenty countries and was included in a compilation of Elvis Presley's US and UK number one hits, Elv1s: 30. In the UK charts, in January, 2005, three re-issued singles again went to number one ("Jailhouse Rock", "One Night"/"I Got Stung" and "It's Now or Never"). Throughout the year, twenty singles were re-issued all making the top five. In the same year, Forbes magazine named Presley, for the fifth straight year, the top-earning deceased celebrity, grossing US$45 million for the Presley estate during the preceding year. Investor CKX paid $100 million for an 85% interest in Elvis Presley's income in February 2005 (In mid-2006, the top place was taken by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain).
Graceland was designated as a National Historic Landmark by U.S Interior Secretary Gale Norton on 27 March 2006. Elvis Presley has featured prominently in a variety of polls and surveys designed to measure popularity and influence.
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