I thought about all the news covered the last few weeks, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Karl Malden, news from India, Germany, Mercedes, and ridiculous stories like the one about Erin Andrews. But lets face it, one of the truly great things about having a voice is to be able to say what you want, at least in the digital age. What I want to talk about in this article is the unequivocal king of celebrity, Elvis Presley – the king of Rock and Roll.
Okay, you detractors out there, the Michael Jackson fans, the Rappers and U2 fans, just let me take you back to a place where someone extraordinary even among celebrities and heroes did the very best PR job anyone ever will. How is that you say? Well, Elvis Presley pretty much made celebrity what it is today. Was it just raw talent that did it? Decidedly not. Was it that talent and charisma interjected at the right time and place? Possibly. I think it was all these things and something a little more special than the “luck” these things imply. I urge you to just scan Elvis’ Wikipedia biography if you have any doubts after reading this.
Siting here wondering how to craft such a deep and impactful story in itself is staggering. I had trouble trying to put together the right words to express Michael Jackson at his unfortunate death, just how do you paint a picture in words of someone even more impressive and legendary (sorry if this diminished Michael or anyone else)? Perhaps the best way is to express the feelings of untold generations, and then to show some images and video. This will not do it I know, but unless the reader has a mind to do time travel, it may be the only way.
So, for the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s no one person could ever hope to be as noteworthy as Elvis was. No way. He was the personification of cool, and is still an idol over half a Century since he set foot on the entertainment scene.
The fans called so loudly Elvis was drawn into films, perhaps the most notable of which, Viva Las Vegas, he co-starred with bombshell and love interest Ann Margaret in. I think my friends and I saw this 3 times in one day (but wait, it only cost a quarter back then).
But, the film which showcased perhaps Elvis’ most loved song was Love Me Tender, from 1956 – his debut as an actor.
In this next song Elvis asks for a big hunka love, and audiences and fans always did. No performer enthralled or endeared their audiences as he did. To date, Elvis is the most successful solo artist of all time, with the number of his tunes sold approaching one billion.
Heart throb, or All American Boy, Elvis was so many things to so many people. Many people remember Blue Hawaii as their favorite of his films, and of course another of his swooning love songs that ladies everywhere (still to this day) get starry eyed over. The reader can capture a little of the innocence of that time in this next clip. Cheesy, and I know, corny. Still, people young or old believed in that delicate fantasy we all lived in before Vietnam.
Perhaps no higher honor can be paid a person than to have their country’s leader speak solemn and true words over them. President Jimmy Carter was in office when Elvis passed away in 1977. He had this to say about “The King”, maybe the best legacy anyone could offer.
“Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. More than 20 years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense, and he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country.” – President Jimmy Carter
In 1968 Elvis did the famous “Comeback” sets, which led to the Las Vegas shows and specials everyone because so familiar with. The video below is not one of Elvis’ best vocals, but he is in his prime. Another point to make here is the fanatacism with which female fans love Elvis. Aside that, watch Elvis literally stops the show to autograph a lady’s drawings of him. Just who the hell does something like that these days? Elvis always did.
I remember back then, everyone was glad Elvis was back, singing, joking, part of the popular culture. From 1968 to 1972 The King was at the top of his game. Then in 1972 something happened that seemed to change Elvis, though we could not readily see it back then. Now I believe it was his separation and later divorce from his wife of 17 years, Priscilla. In these next videos, starting in 1972, it is easy to see (and hear in some songs) that the man is not happy or well.
Even in Aloha From Hawaii, which everyone thought was superb, looking at these videos it is easy to see Elvis is tired, maybe stoned, and has little of the exuberance of past performances.
I don’t intend to end this abbreviated story of one of the greatest performers who ever lived, maybe THE greatest on a sad note. But, for fans out there who saw Elvis at his best, seeing him performing at his last concert? Well, any Elvis fan who does not shed a tear at watching greatness reaching back to lost love and times, is no fan at all.
By anyone’s account Elvis Aaron Presley cared. Beyond charisma, talent, fortune and a deep spirituality, Elvis cared about people. The video below is of him in the early 70′s singing about the dreadful poverty and hopelessness part of America was experiencing (is experiencing even now) back then.
People now can only have an inkling of understanding about Elvis and the time he came from. Artists today actually bask in the light of successes an industry he helped create shines on them. Everyone from the Beatles, to the “King Pop” Michael Jackson, revered Elvis. There is no comparing these artists really. But if we have to measure them, if there has to be one king, then Elvis Presley was and is it. No other figure in entertainment really comes close. Elvis has been inducted into 4 different music genre Halls of Fame. No other artist ever, crossed not only artistic genres, but socio-economic, International, age, gender, or a multitude of others. It was sad to lose this wonderful spirit at the age of only 42, imagine it.
In 2002, the 25th anniversary of Elvis’ passing was solemnly visited by many fans. A statement from The New York Times on that occasion sums up what I have tried to show here, probably better than I have. I will end with “All I can tell you is that I am really sorry you missed him, ” if you are too young to remember, and leave you with:
“For those too young to have experienced Elvis Presley in his prime, today’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of his death must seem peculiar. All the talentless impersonators and appalling black velvet paintings on display can make him seem little more than a perverse and distant memory. But before Elvis was camp, he was its opposite: a genuine cultural force… Elvis’s breakthroughs are under appreciated because in this rock-and-roll age, his hard-rocking music and sultry style have triumphed so completely.” – The New York Times