Presley’s friends feel love, pain, 40 years after his death

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

It isn’t just the leg­end of Elvis Presley that has un­matched stay­ing power 40 years after his death. The guilt, pain and re­gret felt by those who knew and loved him lingers, too.

Pro­lific ses­sion mu­si­cian and pro­ducer Nor­bert Put­nam was on va­ca­tion with his fam­ily in Hawaii when he heard his friend died of a heart at­tack. After years of mak­ing ground­break­ing mu­sic and act­ing in more than two dozen movies, Presley’s ca­reer had slowed, and his­tor­i­cal ac­counts of his life note he was fight­ing obe­sity and sub­stance abuse when he passed away in his Grace­land home in Mem­phis, Tenn.

Put­nam was stand­ing in line to pay for items at a gen­eral store when he heard some­one say Presley had died.

“I reached into my pocket, threw some money down, ran to the car, threw the food down, turned on the ra­dio,” Put­nam said in a phone in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Put­nam switched on the ra­dio. The an­nouncer said: “Elvis Presley died this morn­ing.”

“I sat there in my car and bawled like a child who had a toy taken away from him,” Put­nam said. “I could not be­lieve it. I thought some­one should have staged an in­ter­ven­tion. I thought he could have been saved.”

Since Presley’s death, devo­tees of the swivel-hipped, smooth talk­ing per­former who was born into poverty in Tu­pelo, Mis­sis­sippi, and be­came an in­ter­na­tional star have been flock­ing to Mem­phis for Elvis Week, the an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of his life and ca­reer.

It co­in­cides with the an­niver­sary of Presley’s death in Mem­phis on Aug. 16, 1977, and it draws vis­i­tors from around the world. Most fans will have their first glimpse of a newly built en­ter­tain­ment com­plex that has re­placed and up­dated old ex­hibits fo­cused on Presley’s cars, movies and mem­o­ra­bilia. An es­ti­mated 30,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to at­tend a can­dle­light vigil that be­gins Tues­day night and con­tin­ues into Wed­nes­day morn­ing at Grace­land, where Presley is buried.

For the first time, Grace­land will charge fans for ac­cess to Presley’s gravesite dur­ing the night­time vigil. Vis­i­tors can pay $28.75 to join the pro­ces­sion lead­ing to the graves. The ticket also pro­vides ac­cess to other parts of the prop­erty, Grace­land said in a state­ment.

Put­nam is sched­uled to make a pub­lic ap­pear­ance dur­ing Elvis Week to hon­our the late rock n’ roll pi­o­neer. Bill Med­ley, the deep-voiced singer who com­prised half of the Right­eous Broth­ers duo be­fore starting a solo ca­reer, will also be there.

Presley and Med­ley played the same ho­tel in Las Ve­gas in 1971. Their sched­ules kept them busy, but they still would catch each other’s shows.

Med­ley had a strong fol­low­ing, and Presley sang Right­eous Broth­ers hits “Un­chained Melody” and “You’ve Lost That Lov­ing Feel­ing.” They were friends dat­ing back to the early 1960s.

Be­fore Presley would go on stage at the Las Ve­gas Hil­ton, he and Med­ley would spend a few min­utes to­gether, talk­ing about their mu­tual love for mo­tor­cy­cles and mu­si­cal in­flu­ences. Med­ley re­mem­bers those chats fondly, as Presley had few mo­ments when he could just be him­self, away from fans and han­dlers and an en­tourage known as the Mem­phis Mafia.

“We would sit there, one on one,” Med­ley said. “So Elvis and I just re­ally be­came Bill and Elvis. We would just talk about nor­mal stuff . ... Noth­ing too deep.”

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