Few American entertainers have ever captured the world’s attention in life and in death like Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. The only modern comparison is with Michael Jackson. But how do the two stack up?
Presley's death on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42 brought forth an outpouring of grief and tributes from around the world. If you thought the death of Michael Jackson was a big deal, either you weren't around when Elvis "left the building" or you were hiding under your pet rock. Internet overload? If the internet had been around in 1977, it would have blown up like a balloon, fallen off the toilet, crawled a few feet, and died. Okay, bad metaphor. But you get the point.
Sure, life was primitive back then. No prison inmates dancing on YouTube, but we did the best we could to honor the man.
In 1992, the American public was invited to vote on which image of Elvis would appear on a new stamp to be issued by the U.S. Postal Service:
Somehow, I don't think we'll be seeing this real soon:
Elvis was bigger than Michael, and he didn't need to turn into a zombie to pull it off. Although, to be fair, he did turn into a fat guy. But if he ever ate brains, like zombies do, he put them in a sandwich and fried it in bacon grease. Why? Because he was awesome. And, because he was from Mississippi.
The biggest rock star before Elvis was this guy:
You do the math.
Elvis was discovered by Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Originally recording a sedate song for his mother, Elvis was asked to return to fulfill Sam's desire to find a white man who could sing a version of black rhythm and blues. Sam already had black men on the label who could perform this music, but they were…black. That was a problem in the 1950s. It was such a problem that a guy who looked like this:
was more acceptable to American audiences.
In any case, his uninhibited vocal style and wild hip "gyrations" soon created scandal and sensation everywhere he performed; this new "Rock and Roll" music was deemed "dangerous to the morals of our youth," to which youth replied, "YEAH! THAT'S THE SHIT RIGHT THERE!"
He signed with RCA records and made his first album in 1956. A string of #1 hits, including "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," and "Jailhouse Rock," ensued.
In 1958, Elvis was drafted into the United States Army, putting his career on hold for two years. In contemporary terms, this would be like if Justin Timberlake was abducted and made to join a roving band of cannibal headhunters in the steamy jungles of the south Pacific [note: analogy seems forced; try something involving Hannah Montana and women's prison].
Elvis appeared in over 30 motion pictures during the course of his Hollywood career, some of which took as long as three days to film. His versatility as an actor allowed him to play everything from a race car driver (Speedway), to a different race car driver (Spinout), to a race boat driver (Clambake) . For continuity he was allowed to punch Bill Bixby in the face in many of his movies (possibly in his contract; if you remember Bill Bixby, you understand), but his range was unmatched, as was his appeal.
The formula for making an Elvis movie was simple: put the King in an exotic setting (or at least in front of an exotic backdrop), surround him with beautiful girls, let him sing a few songs, watch him punch Bill Bixby in the face, and we're good.
"If this was a real beach, I'd be having fun."
Who's bad? Jailhouse Rock, 1957.
You can't be too careful. That parking lot at Dodger Stadium has seen a lot of fender benders.
Mysteriously, Elvis' career stalled during the 1960s, when most of his movies were made. Actually, it wasn't mysterious at all. Due to changing American culture, competition from acts like the Beatles, and his own newfound suckitude, he was off most everyone's radar by 1968.
In December of 1968, Elvis appeared on television again in what was billed as a Christmas special. Whereas his manager, Colonel Parker, wanted him to wear a suit and sing some nice Christmas songs, Elvis decided to do this:
And America said: "We thought the psychedelic stuff was so cool why again exactly?"
A string of fine recordings followed, including "Suspicious Minds," "Kentucky Rain," and "In The Ghetto," and Elvis' career was revived.
After his comeback in 1968, Elvis settled into a life of headlining performances (often in Las Vegas), sucking drugs, and behaving erratically, as any true American icon should. He met this guy and gave him a gun, for some reason:
He got one of these:
(The badge reads "BUREAU OF NARCOTICS DANGEROUS DRUGS.")
Meanwhile, his medicine cabinet looked like this:
And that's just the stuff he needed refilled that day.
In the end, his diet of fried peanut butter, banana & downer sandwiches left him looking like this:
I'm not sure, but I think the 5k refers to what his current weight would be if he was alive. Sightings of Elvis continue to this day, as well as reports of his appearing in burritos, etc. These are probably spurious (ya think?). The Elvis Impersonator, however, is one of the leading exports of the state of Nevada. And isn't imitation the highest form of flattery?
Well, no. Just buy the music.