On this day August 16, 1976 The King of Rock ‘N Roll- Elvis Presley died at the age of 42 in his home in Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.
I was not an Elvis fan at the time. Certainly I knew who he was and I could name a few of his songs. I was just about to the point in my life where I became a music fan but Elvis- sure everyone knew Elvis. I was at my uncle and aunt’s house, as I recall we were all outside and the Pirate game was on the radio. They broke into the game-with a bulletin from Memphis, Tennessee- Elvis Presley had died at the age of 42. My first thought was- he was old, old people die, he had lived a full life. Heck, forty -two years old he was just a kid . To me Elvis was an icon from an earlier generation about as relevant at the time to me as Glen Miller or Benny Goodman.
Elvis has now been dead almost as many years as he lived. He is bigger in death than he was in life- and I recognize that he was huge in life–in years before I was born. I have grown to like a lot of his music. He was a great singer without question and I recognize the influence that he had in his earlier years on those who came after him. Its kind of strange because I am sure in the 1950’s no one thought of Elvis as this but at the time of his death in 1977 I thought he was a square- not cool at all. A few weeks after Elvis died, I recall my mom telling me that a friend of my parents who was a big Elvis fan- was still broken up over Elvis’s death. At the time I found that odd. A couple years later I would understand that when John Lennon died.
I have bought a lot of his music over the years, I’ve been to the tacky Graceland, I’ve read the two outstanding biographies on Elvis by Peter Guralnick which I would highly recommend. The Elvis- bigger in death than in life- when did that begin? Did it begin with the reaction to his death? 80,000 people lining the streets as his body was taken the cemetery? When Graceland was opened to the public in 1982? I’ve always been somewhat puzzled by this-because the thing he did the best, his music- while it does live on-doesn’t seem to be the thing that his popularity is now based on. His growing popularity since his death seems based to me on bad taste.
In the end the Elvis story to me is a very sad one. John Lennon was in Japan when he got the news that the man who changed his life- had died and his reaction was “Elvis died when he joined the Army” and its hard to argue against that. Also while getting hooked up with the carnival barker of a manager- Col. Thomas Parker may have helped propel him to fame it wasn’t worth it. Col. Tom sold Elvis’s soul over and over and Elvis let him do it. Parker looked at Elvis as his meal ticket. In a famous and true quote- asked after Elvis died “What are you going to do now that Elvis is dead?- Parker replied “Manage Elvis.” Too bad Elvis didn’t stand up for himself when he came back from the army and rid himself of Parker or at least stand up to him.