Love, Elvis

Thursday August 16th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Today is the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, and he’s still a well known public figure that only needs to be identified by his first name. That’s quite impressive from a marketing point of view, and I don’t see any reasons why his legacy won’t continue into the foreseeable future.

Talk about the ultimate lottery winner, that guy was it. Could he have had any more good luck as far as circumstances go? He was a good looking white kid who could sing like a black person, and his family moved to a music town when he was a kid. Not only that, it happened at precisely the right time in history when national media made it possible for someone to explode overnight.

What are the odds of all that happening to ONE person? I can’t begin to guess, and that’s why I have always been fascinated by Elvis’s life way more than his music. I don’t mind his music, but I find his life story much more intriguing. He got to experience the trappings of fame and fortune like few others before or since. He lived fast, died young, and he did it while the world watched.

I’ll never forget the shock I felt when I heard of his death. I was 14 and had just returned from a baseball game, and my grandparents were watching the evening news as they always did. I can still see the somber look on the face of John McCullough on WTMJ Channel 4 in Milwaukee.

“Stay tuned for more on the death of Elvis Presley,” he said with a solemn tone as they went to a commercial break. I remember all three of us being completely stunned into silence for several seconds, then looking to each other expecting to get answers. I don’t know why it’s such a vivid memory all these years later, but it totally is. I can picture that instant like it happened yesterday.

Elvis had a special meaning to my grandmother. She HATED everything about him. My father and his generation loved him, and of course the parents of that generation didn’t. My father used to sign every single greeting card he ever sent to my grandmother with the words “Love, Elvis.”

That would send my grandma into a tizzy every time, but he still did it years later. I don’t ever remember him not doing it, and she would always react with a string of foul language that would make any drunken sailor proud. That was one of her biggest buttons, and he knew how to push it.

When the news came back on after the commercial break, I remember the story unfolding from the network news feed and my grandmother letting out an audible whoop and saying not without more than a subtle hint of joy in her voice “The son of a bitch is DEAD!” It was a surreal scene.

In the years since, I’ve visited Graceland several times and read a lot about Elvis’s life. He was a complex character, and not the clueless hillbilly many thought him to be. He was trapped inside a prison of his own fame, and that doesn’t sound fun at all. Few others have had to endure that.

At least there’s one problem I don’t have. I can freely roam anywhere I wish any time of day or night and not have to worry about being mobbed for autographs or pictures. I still may die on my toilet, but it won’t be a major news story. Nobody will care except anyone on the clean up crew.


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