At 2.30pm on 16th August 1977 an urban legend was born when a real life legend was discovered lying on the floor of his luxurious bathroom at Graceland. An hour later, the King was pronounced dead… but was he?
When the shocking news first broke, it was inevitable that fans refused point blank to believe it. Some went as far as to insist that they had seen him beyond the given time of the announcement. The majority of those were considered to be honest mistakes or even wishful thinking on the part of the witness(es). At the time of Elvis’s recorded death, he was just 42 and had spent half of his life up to that point firmly in the limelight. The official cause of death was given as heart failure, but there are some that believe that part of the cause had something to do with the prescription drugs that Elvis was taking towards the end of his life. On the day of the funeral itself, hundreds of thousands thronged the streets in an effort to catch a glimpse of the cortege. Among all of these people were fans, celebrities and the media. The funeral was one of the first red flags for many fans and believers of the conspiracy. The huge gravestone prominent at Graceland actually has a typo upon it. Presley’s middle name was Aron but on the gravestone it is embossed as Aaron. Opinion on this is divided even to this day. On the one hand are those that swear Aaron is the correct interpretation of his middle name; on the other hand are those who believe that this is a deliberate message or signal.
Buoyed by this possibility, over the last 30 or 40 years, numerous sightings of Elvis Presley have been reported from all corners of the world. Among the more famous of these was a particular fast food restaurant in Michigan. One of the many pilgrims to Graceland took a snapshot of one of the windows to the mansion. Clearly seen inside was a middle-aged man resting on a chair. This man was dark haired and looked suspiciously like the former resident. And then there was a photograph taken of former Heavyweight World Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali. Exactly who is that man in the background?
When Elvis was lying in state prior to his funeral, some who saw him at the time went on record to state that many of the features were wrong. Main suspects were the eyebrows, chin and fingers. Others who had to rely on photographic evidence, namely the famous National Enquirer image that, allegedly, cost the magazine $18000 paid to one of Elvis’s cousins, insist that the occupant of the casket wasn’t human at all. They surmise that what was put on display was a waxwork dummy designed to mimic the King. As well as that, an air-conditioning unit was required somewhere inside the coffin to combat the sultry Memphis summertime and made the entire coffin weigh close to a ton… literally.
Who could also forget what Colonel Tom Parker said in a press conference shortly after Elvis’s death was announced. “Elvis didn’t die. The body did. We’re keeping up the good spirits. We’re keeping Elvis alive. I talked to him this morning and he told me to carry on.” Comments such as those could have been interpreted any number of ways. Could one of those ways have literal meanings?
As late as 2001, a new album of Elvis material went on sale. Released on an independent label, this album was called Kingtinued and featured a host of cover versions of songs such as Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton), Livin’ La Vida Loca (Ricky Martin), Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen) and the Princess Diana version of Candle in the Wind (Elton John). As music fans know, many of these tracks were released long after 1977. The Producer of this album denied the claims of many conspiracy theorists that Elvis was back in the recording studio and said that the voice of Elvis was actually provided by impersonator Doug Church.
Even if what was reported was actually true, there are still many questions left unanswered. Elvis was supposed to have been readying for a new tour but for some reason did not request items, such as costumes, considered to be standard for an upcoming tour. According to some reports, Elvis was said to have fired several old friends from their roles within his entourage. These individuals were rumored to have been working on a book based on their time within Elvis’s inner circle. Another possibility was that these were actually part of what is alleged to have been the Memphis Mafia and were dismissed by Presley’s father.
On 17th August at Memphis Airport, a man calling himself John Burrows bought and used a one way ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Not only did he look and sound like Elvis Presley, but Burrows was the pseudonym that Elvis Presley tended to use when booking hotel rooms etc.
Whether or not Elvis grew tired of his fame and decided to assassinate his public self, there can be little doubt that the aura of his legend has more than taken over. His music and films still live on and are as popular now as they have always been. Elvis was such an icon that even those not among his legions of fans cannot help but be admirable for his status as the cultural revolution that helped usher in the era of rock and roll. He came along when history needed him most and burned brightly for over two decades.
Perhaps even today, Elvis Presley is sunning on a beach on an island somewhere with his trademark “Thank you! Thank you very much!”
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