I recently had the good fortune to acquire the modest collection of a deceased Elvis fan. In addition to a few books, old magazines, and snapshots of Elvis in concert in Ashville, NC, there were 19 supermarket tabloids from 1977 and 1978, all with delightful cover stories about Elvis. I’m going to have such a ball reading them.
There was one big prize: the famous September 6, 1977 issue of the National Enquirer, with its cover photo of Elvis in his open casket – and the headline you see above. There has been lots of speculation about the National Enquirer coffin issue, but here are some facts.
Iain Calder, veteran Editorial Director of the magazine, wrote a book, The Untold Story: My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer. In it, Calder admits they got the photo from a cousin of Elvis for $18,000. Basically, they bribed him to sneak a camera into Graceland and snap the picture of Elvis’ corpse. It became the most famous cover picture in their history, and the return from this investment has reaped National Enquire over 1000% profit so far.
According to an article by Lea Frydman on www.elvispresleynews.com, “The National Enquire’s Elvis in his Coffin issue is the most sought after copy of any in the history of magazine publishing… to the tune of 35,000 requests per month. So, when NE went color in 1989, it meant they did not have to leave the black/white printing press idle. “ To this day, they use it to print all these Elvis back copies the fans want. How’s that for a nice side business?
The same source says the Elvis in his casket photo also appeared on the cover of the magazine’s August 16, 1978 issue, the one year anniversary of Elvis’ death. I don’t have a copy to confirm this, but if I ever get the chance to buy one, I will.
So, what is the National Enquirer’s untold story? They say Elvis predicted his own death, that he would die at the same age his mother, Gladys, did. I’m inclined to consider everything in National Enquirer as fiction, but Gladys died on August 14 at age 42, and Elvis died on August 16 at age 42. Maybe the National Enquirer was on to something.
© 2005 Philip R Arnold