Thursday, August 16, 2012

When Elvis Died

Most of the time, it is my policy to write in my blogs about anniversaries that end in a five or a zero.

Nevertheless, I always write about the anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. Every year.

I'm not sure why that is so — except for the obvious reason, that Elvis truly is one of the undisputed superstars of rock 'n' roll. Even now, more than three decades after his death.

And that is clearly the case this week as his fans are gathering in Memphis to commemorate this milestone 35th anniversary of his death.

The Washington Post reports that Presley's ex, Priscilla, and their daughter, Lisa Marie, unexpectedly joined fans at the Graceland mansion for a candlelight vigil on the eve of the anniversary.

Elvis' heyday was really before my time, but his presence was constant when I was growing up, overshadowing everything else even if Elvis wasn't pushing a new record at the time. Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones — along with others — took over the weekly top spot in record sales, but Elvis was always there, always the standard against which others were judged.

No one — except perhaps those closest to him who knew of his dependence on drugs — could have expected him to die at the age of 42.

When he died on this day in 1977, the outpouring of grief I witnessed was unlike anything I had ever seen and was really matched by only a few celebrities since — John Lennon, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson.

(It could truthfully be said, though, that John Lennon, Princess Diana and Michael Jackson died due to the actions of others — whereas Elvis brought about his own death. It almost certainly wasn't intentional, but it is an important distinction between Elvis and those other three.)

In many ways, the grieving never stopped. Maybe it was a sense of unfulfilled potential — even though Elvis had a couple of decades to make his mark whereas people like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had only a handful of years.

There are probably people out there who make their livings impersonating Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin — but there are many, many more who impersonate Elvis and make pretty good livings at it, too.

I have often wondered, in fact, if many of those "Elvis sightings" — you know, reports of seeing Elvis in convenience stores and walking along roads — were not hallucinations but rather sightings of Elvis impersonators.

The real thing, of course, is always with us in recordings and movies — and you can see the King in some of his better movies today on Turner Classic Movies.