Long live the King: A tribute to Elvis 40 years on

I fell in love with Elvis the day after he died.

The night before – August 16, 1977 – my mum and dad were hosting a dinner party. And, for some reason, and this was unusual, the TV was on.

A news flash interrupted the pineapple-and-cheese eating – and newsreader Jan Leeming (I think) broke the news and millions of hearts. And if memory serves, I think she put down her sheets of paper and insisted she tell the world in her own words; ‘Elvis Presley has died’, she choked.

Jan and Elvis Aaron sure put a dampener on that evening.

The next day, Elvis was everywhere: the telly, the radio, the papers.

And instantly in this 11-year-old’s heart – I couldn’t get enough of him.

It was like when people lost their minds after Diana died – but whereas they placed flowers outside Kensington Palace, I knocked on my neighbour Martine’s door and asked if I could sit and listen (and make myself cry to) all of her Elvis LPs.

And that was that.

Elvis Presley plays guitar during a scene from the documentary film Elvis: That's the Way It Is.
(Picture: Getty)

I spent the summer watching his films and collecting his music. I painted ‘Elvis Forever’ (with the Elvis ‘v’ crossing the ‘v’ of my other boyfriends Liverpool FC) on my bedroom window; I joined Martine in a seance to see if we could talk to the King (he said nothing – but a poster of him fell to the floor as we held the static glass); and I would entertain friends and family with my gyrating Elvis impression.

Uh-huh. You read right.

I loved him. And everything about him captured me.

His beautiful voice; the tragic romance of him dying young (let’s not dwell on the toilet…); and, yes, even his films.

I know the benign 30+ Hollywood tat took him from virile stud to impotent sell-out in the eyes of many, but they weren’t all bad. There was a knowing ‘Yeah, I know…’ from him – and he was really good in some of them.

In King Creole, playing a nightclub singer, he entered into James Dean edgy, brooding, territory. And with Viva Las Vegas co-star Ann-Margret he was charismatic and playful. And in Charro, a bearded reformed outlaw Elvis was deep, dark, and the spitting image of my gorgeous uncle Haras.

And, yes, I fell in love with that face.

The idol of the rock 'n' roll set, singer Elvis Presley studies himself in the mirror as he dons his fatigues at his off-post home in Bad Neuheim, Germany, Recently promoted to acting sergeant, soldier Presley will soon be back in civilian harness, strumming his guitar and making teen-age misses squeal with delight as he sings. Elvis is slated to get discharge in late February.
(Picture: Getty)

God, he looked like a Greek god. He was extraordinarily handsome. Those smouldering eyes, that full pout, those soft high cheekbones, that perfect nose.

He certainly got this freckly tween’s hormones all shook up.

All the girls were crazy for him.

Actor Teri Garr, who was a dancer in nine of his films, gives the best quote ever here: ‘After we finished shooting some days we would hear that there was a party at Elvis’s house. We’d go up there but it wasn’t really much of a party at all. It was just a bunch of girls sitting around watching Elvis watch TV.’

I also loved just how huge he was (not his weight; show some respect) – how this dirt poor kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, had changed the chuffing world.

He popularised rockabilly (that uptempo mix of country music and rhythm and blues); he was commercially successful in pop, blues and gospel; he won three Grammys; he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award when he was 36; he’s on pretty much every Hall of Fame; he became one of the best-selling solo artists in history with record sales of around 600 million units; and, in short, he was the first worldwide music icon.

Elvis PRESLEY; performing live onstage,
(Picture: Steve Morley/Redferns)

An actual star.

Young me saw that. And the opposite of young me still sees that now.

Yes, the films lost him a lot of respect by the mid-60s. And, sure, those Vegas hotel ‘366 days of the year’ contracts seemed to sap him of joy and any last creative juices. But we have to look at his manager Colonel Tom Parker here.

And while you’re in looking mood, please look at Elvis – his fantastic 1968 comeback special. Oh boy. One Night With You’s Been Too Lonely Too Long will make you teen-scream.

As will a sweating Elvis in black leather. Lawdy, Miss Clawdy!

And If I Can Dream will stir you in every way. Goosebumps on goosebumps. The magic was there. The world-changing magic was there.

And that’s why, 40 years on from his death at 42, from a heart attack after years of prescribed drug abuse, Elvis Aaron Presley is still relevant – and is still the King.

Elvis changed it all.

He changed what music was ‘allowed’ to be played, performed and adored. He loved Gospel, he loved Blues, he loved R&B – and he brought all those influences to the mainstream.

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