Elvis’ incredible rocket ride to superstardom coincided exactly with my high school years. I have always felt fortunate to have been a teenager when Elvis burst on the scene and changed everything. It was an exciting time for those of us lucky enough to be around then. Sometimes I marvel at all the folks who have become Elvis fans in spite of never experiencing the Elvis phenomenon in real time.
This week I realized there are also current Elvis fans who never experienced another momentous event – his death. It was a brutal shock to us fans, and the pain and sorrow we felt over his loss was staggering.
To honor the 39th anniversary of Elvis’ passing, I would like to reprint some of the sentiments expressed by Associated Press writers in the days after his death. These went out to hundreds of subscribing newspapers along with assortments of photographs. They are not straight news stories, but rather narratives on the effect Elvis’ passing had on the fans.
I think you may find these stories a welcome addition to your celebration of Elvis Week 2016.
The throng of grieving fans who descended on Graceland the day after Elvis died is well documented. Less known are the pilgrimages fans made to other of Elvis’ former homes, like the one at 144 Monovale Street in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles.
August 17, 1977: (Author attribution not given)
As a light rain fell, fans of Elvis Presley sat outside the black iron gate of the Holmby Hills mansion once owned by the dead star. They waited, but they didn’t know what for, and they didn’t really know why they had come.
A tour bus stopped Tuesday, and after telling his tale, the driver leaned out to the damp visitors and said, “You know he doesn’t live there anymore.”
Dany Frye said it was like being shot when he heard that the king of rock and roll was dead. Almost without thinking, he and his wife made a pilgrimage to the house where Frye and other fans often visited to catch a glimpse of Elvis. “He was Mr. Music to me,” said Frye. “I don’t think anybody will ever take his place. I used to come out here and wait by the gate, along with a hundred other people.”
The 29-year-old Frye had seen Presley once. “You know, he meant a great deal to people my age. The Beatles came along and he wasn’t so hot for a while, but his true fans loved him.”
Frye occasionally peeked through the hole in the fence at the expansive Tudor-style mansion capping grass-knolled lawns. He ran his hands through his hair, pacing back and forth.
Frye knew the trees that dotted the estate, knew the tennis court, but didn’t know why he was there.
[Editor’s note: We know.]
The dedication and anguish Elvis fans endured in Memphis the day after his death is probably not known by many of the folks in town for this year’s Elvis Week. Any who read this story will probably be less inclined to complain about the Memphis heat.
August 18,1977: by Eric Newhouse
The bouquet of red roses, meant to adorn the coffin of Elvis Presley, wilted in the sun.
“The girl standing next to us originally brought flowers,” said Margaret McCasland of Memphis. “We picked them up and decided to deliver them when she fainted.”
Hundreds fainted Wednesday as they waited in the stifling heat outside Graceland mansion for a last glimpse of the king of rock ‘n’ roll. After treatment by paramedics inside the mansion’s gates, many doggedly continued their pilgramage to Presley’s seemless copper coffin.
Police said 25,000 to 30,000 people passed the open coffin just inside the doorway to Presley’s white-pillared home for a two-second glimpse of the singer.
Presley was burried today after a private ceremony. At 5:55 p.m. a policeman announced over a megaphone that “gates will be closed at 6:30. No one will be admitted after that.” No one moved.
At 6:30 sharp, another announcement: “The family has requested that the gates be closed. They are sorry you couldn’t make it.” Still no one moved.
“It is not our doing,” pleaded the policeman. “The family has asked us to stop the visitation.”
The huge crowd responded with a chant: “One more hour, one more hour.” But the gates adorned with dancing musical notes opened only to admit a last-minute surge of children and fainting women.
Thousands were turned away.
“I think it’s terrible. I’ve waited six hours,” said Ms. McCasland, holding the wilted bouquet.
“We came all the way from New York,” said Donna Griffin. “We stood there for five hours and they shut the door in our faces.”
One man denied entry said he had flown from Switzerland. Another said he had come from Baltimore. A woman said she had come from California.
Sheriff Barksdale said he had been in law enforcement in Memphis for 27 years, “and I’ve witnessed many events, including the assassination of Martin Luther King,” he said. “I’ve never whitnessed anything like this.”
Presley’s body was discovered Tuesday afternoon. News of the 42-year-old singer’s death swept the country.
“I heard on the radio that he was dead and then they started playing ‘I Can’t Help but Love You,’” Rita Hambrick of Texarkana, Ark. said.
“I couldn’t help it – I broke out crying and cried until I went to bed. And I woke up crying again to the radio playing ‘Love Me Tender.’”
Miss Hambrick and her friends drove 130 miles to Memphis Wednesday morning and spent six nightmarish hours waiting in the heat.
‘Seven people fainted around me. The lady in front of me and the lady behind me had to be caried out on stretchers.’
“It was horrible,” she said, “but I’d do it again, because it was our last chance to see him.”
I always enjoy reading about how Elvis changed things for the teenagers of the late 50s. But many kids of that age in 1977 knew little about Elvis.
August 19, 1977: by Linda Deutsch
To little kids and teenagers, it must be a strange spectacle: a world of adults grieving the death of a rock ‘n’ roll singer.
“Who was this Elvis Presley, anyway?” they wonder. “Why did Mama cry when she heard he’d died? And what’s this got to do with me?”
How do you explain?
If there had been no Elvis, we might still be wearing crewcuts and saddle shoes. We might be humming ballads and saying nothing about sex.
“If there had been no Elvis,” says music publicist Paul Wasserman, “there would have been no Beatles, no Rolling Stones. Elvis was a pioneer.”
Like George Washington?
Well sort of. He was a revolutionary for sure, but he carried a guitar, not a musket, and his message was a different kind of freedom.
He was a “culture hero” and it seems just now that he should be compared to another man in this century: Rudolph Valentino. They were American originals – “The Shiek” and “The Pelvis.”
In the 1920s, Valentino danced the Tango on a movie screen and women swooned.
In the 1950s, Elvis wigglesd his hips on TV and girls fainted.
Elvis’ death shocked and stunned his fans around the world. Did you know that so many of them flocked to Graceland the next day that president Carter had to send in 300 National Guard troops in to maintain order? It has been written that 500,000 people and 1,000 police officers lined the streets of Memphis for Elvis’ funeral procession on August 18. That seems incredibly high, but such is Elvis lore.
To those of you who weren’t around then to experience the anguish of the fans mourning for Elvis, hopefully these three AP wire stories will give you a new appreciation for it.
Have a great Elvis Week.
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