Elvis: 40 years since the death of ‘the King’

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Elvis Presley, Amer­i­can icon and King of rock ‘n’ roll, trans­formed pop­u­lar cul­ture, sold over a bil­lion records and is idol­ized as ever on the 40th an­niver­sary of his tragic death. His Grace­land man­sion in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee-the se­cond most fa­mous home in the United States after the White House-ex­pects more than 50,000 peo­ple to de­scend for the big­gest ever an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of his life 40 years after his death aged 42 on Au­gust 16, 1977.

Presley is con­sid­ered the best sell­ing artist of all time, shift­ing an es­ti­mated bil­lion records. In 2016, Forbes ranked him fourth highest earn­ing dead celebrity at $27 mil­lion, still mov­ing a mil­lion al­bums. “He is the only per­son of mod­ern times who is in­stantly rec­og­niz­able through­out the world by his first name,” said Bri­tish au­thor and artist Ted Har­ri­son, who has writ­ten two books about Presley. “Say ‘Elvis’ in Bei­jing, Nicaragua, Es­to­nia or Fiji and you get an im­me­di­ate recog­ni­tion across lan­guage and cul­ture,” he said.

His unique voice and style blended R&B, blues, coun­try, gospel and black mu­sic, chal­leng­ing so­cial and racial bar­ri­ers at the time, and earn­ing him the nick­name “Elvis the Pelvis” for his gy­rat­ing moves. Ooz­ing style, charisma and naked sex ap­peal, he was the fan­tasy of mil­lions of women and in­spired ev­ery­one who came after him, from The Bea­tles to The Rolling Stones to to­day’s chart­top­per Bruno Mars. “Hear­ing him for the first time was like bust­ing out of jail,” Bob Dy­lan has said. In the late 1960s, the com­poser and con­duc­tor Leonard Bern­stein called him “the great­est cul­tural force in the 20th cen­tury.” Celebrity of all celebri­ties

Hits such as “Heart­break Ho­tel,” “Hound Dog,” “Jail­house Rock” and “Are You Lone­some Tonight” are in­stantly rec­og­niz­able. His mu­sic has been reis­sued and repack­aged count­less times since his death. More than 20 mil­lion peo­ple have vis­ited Grace­land, his home for 20 years, after Priscilla, his ex-wife and mother of his only child Lisa Marie, opened it to the pub­lic in 1982. The es­tate says it pulls in 600,000 vis­i­tors a year and con­trib­utes around $150 mil­lion a year to the Mem­phis econ­omy. Nei­ther is it show­ing any sign of slow­ing down.

In March, it opened a brand-new $45 mil­lion en­ter­tain­ment com­plex and ho­tel spread across 40 acres. Die-hard fans are of­ten moved to tears at his gravesite at Grace­land, where he is in­terred next to his beloved par­ents, Gla­dys and Ver­non, and grand­mother Minnie Mae, cov­ered in flow­ers, trib­utes and me­men­tos. “It gives you that fire,” said Stephanie Har­ris, 42, from Michi­gan who sells life in­sur­ance. “His mu­sic is tran­scen­dent to our gen­er­a­tion be­cause there’s noth­ing like the ‘Hound Dog’ baby.” In down­town Mem­phis, home of the blues, you can buy ev­ery­thing Elvis-from Christ­mas tree dec­o­ra­tions to lug­gage. Card­board Elvis cutouts greet you out­side bars and his mu­sic blares out of loud­speak­ers. “He’s the celebrity of all celebri­ties,” said Lisa Bseiso, 36, who set up The Of­fi­cial Elvis Presley Fan Club of Qatar, the Mid­dle East­ern king­dom where she was born and raised. “Forty years after his death, that’s why he’s a phe­nom­e­non. He’s still as pow­er­ful, as lov­ing.”

Black mu­sic

Born to a truck driver fa­ther and sewing­ma­chine op­er­a­tor in a two-room house in Tu­pelo, Mis­sis­sippi, on Jan­uary 8, 1935, Presley grew up an only child after his brother was still­born. In 1948, he and his par­ents moved to Mem­phis, he grad­u­ated high school, cut his first record aged 19 and be­came an al­most in­stant star. As an early rebel whose hip-swivel­ing, pul­sat­ing leg-tap­ping had con­ser­va­tives up in arms, his mu­sic also crossed the racial di­vide in a South where the specter of seg­re­ga­tion still loomed large. “Far more wor­ry­ing to many white Amer­i­cans was the way he took African-Amer­i­can mu­sic and pre­sented it main­stream,” says Har­ri­son. Then came a two-year stint in the US Army dur­ing the Cold War, he was shipped off to West Ger­many, pro­moted to sergeant and after leav­ing the mil­i­tary turned into a re­spectable fam­ily en­ter­tainer. But if he em­bod­ied the Amer­i­can dream-the poor boy made good who doted on his par­ents and liked to buy Cadil­lacs for strangers off the street on a whim-he also per­son­i­fied Amer­i­can ex­cess.

He be­came a to­tal recluse, abus­ing a dizzy­ing ar­ray of pre­scrip­tion pills, over­ate, be­com­ing a bloated shadow of his once lithe self in de­clin­ing health and plagued by poor man­age­ment. His last live per­for­mance was on June 25, 1977, in Indianapolis and on Au­gust 16, 1977, the day be­fore his next sched­uled con­cert, he was found dead in his bath­room.

In this photo, a graf­fiti artist paints the wall of an old su­per­mar­ket in the former US army base in Wuerzburg, southern Ger­many. — AFP

Trib­utes and me­men­tos from fans are seen near the Med­i­ta­tion Gar­den where Elvis Presley is buried along­side his grand­mother and par­ents at his Grace­land man­sion in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee.

The maker is pic­tured in the Med­i­ta­tion Gar­den.

— AFP pho­tos

‘Elvis trib­ute artists’ Luiz Ro­magna of Brazil, left, and Jim Card­well, right, of Jef­fer­son, In­di­ana are seen back­stage be­fore tak­ing part in the “Im­ages of the King” con­test at the New Daisy Theatre in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee.

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