Wednesday August 17, 1977
The King is dead and there will be no replacement. Elvis Presley, the founder,
the greatest exponent, and the most passionate figure in rock and roll, died
last night in the emergency ward of Memphis Baptist Hospital of "acute
A hospital spokesman said Presley was found unconscious at his
home by his road manager, Joe Esposito, who called the fire department
ambulance. Ambulance personnel tried to resuscitate the singer as he was being
rushed to hospital but Presley's personal physician, Dr George Nichopoulos,
pronounced him dead.
Thus ended at the age of 42 the career of the man who recorded more than 400
songs, who sold more than 260 million records and who will always embody not
only rock and roll but the sudden explosion of young white affluence which
created it. He received dozens of offers to perform in Britain but turned them
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi. His
twin brother Jesse died at birth and his parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley,
raised him in the kind of loving and religious poor white home which was the
very essence of the deep south.
After winning several talent competitions as a child, working as a cinema usher
and a truck driver, the job he always said he liked best. Elvis Presley met his
first inspiration, Mr Sam Phillips, the owner of the Sun Record Company.
It was the early recordings of songs by black musicians that attracted the
attention of Colonel Tom Parker, who was to become Presley's svengali, guiding
his career and personal life with the object of making as much money as
possible. Within a year of Col. Parker becoming his manager in November 1955,
the young Presley had won his first six gold discs and an international
reputation as the most dangerous thing to hit civilisation since the atom bomb.
US churchmen, politicians and Senate leaders railed against "Elvis the Pelvis"
whose bucking hips and passionate rhythms on stage were sending shudders of
sexual excitement through a whole continent of American girlhood via the new
medium of television.
Worse than that, Presley had taken black songs, and a black style of aggressive
presentation and sold this passionate music as a neat package wrapped in his
acceptably white skin. Years before civil rights legislation, and while the Deep
South was still segregated, Presley brought the black man's blues to the hearts
and minds of a young America.
The songs that Presley spread around the world were hard driving, uncompromising
celebrations of toughness or maudlin despair. Just as in his private life the
young Presley regularly flattened the many men who challenged him to fight, and
yet publicised his almost sickening devotion to his mother, so his songs were
either masculine and hard like Jailhouse Rock or appallingly sentimental, like
Heartbreak Hotel and Love Me Tender.
By 1958, Elvis Presley had achieved the kind of international fame which only
John Kennedy and The Beatles were to rival. And then it all changed. On March
24, 1958, he was conscripted into the US army.
His hair was cut, his back was straightened and the surly curl to his lip was
replaced by a bright eye and a strong chin. The teenage monster had become a
doughty defender of mom's apple pie.
He married Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of a US Air Force colonel in 1957
after meeting her in West Germany while he was doing his military service. They
had one daughter, Lisa Marie born in February 1968, but were divorced in 1973.
When Presley put on uniform and after his return, the guts and defiance went out
of his music. He had many hit records with medium paced ballads like His Latest
Flame and She's Not You and with very slow numbers like Are You Lonesome
To the despair of his old fans, Elvis stopped rocking and started to make bland,
commercial films which celebrated the wholesome girl-loving, patriotic decency
of young America..
He was taken to hospital several times because of weight problems, and as his
weight increased, his public appearances became more infrequent. Sources close
to the Presley routine said he has recently been a heavy cocaine user.
As if to show he could still do it, his records still crept into the charts and
in 1969, one of them, In the Ghetto, seemed to echo his old passions and to pay
a debt to the black roots of his music.