The 1970s are alive and well at the white villa on Elvis Presley Boulevard in the Blues city of Memphis. The King of Rock ‘n' Roll would have been 75 on January 8. Elvis himself still seems to live here at Graceland, where hundreds of thousands of fans flock each year to remember Elvis, who died in 1977 at just 42, alone and addicted to prescription drugs. Since that day, time has stood still here.
Imagine Elvis as a 75-year-old? Unimaginable. Perhaps he would be fat with thin white hair, like his childhood friends from Tupelo, Mississippi. Sam Bell, an African American, recalls how he and Elvis were inseparable as children, even in the racially segregated American South. Sam and Elvis would go in by separate entrances in the cinema. “As soon as the lights went out, Elvis climbed over the railing to sit by me. Elvis would carry around a broom and play like it was a guitar,” Bell remembers with a laugh.
Elvis' first public performance was when he was in fifth grade at a local talent show. He stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang a heart-rending ballad about a dog that died. But he was beaten by another local person, Shirley Jones. Jones' clearest memory of Elvis was that he dumped her best friend with a handwritten note to pursue another girl.
Kissed by the King
Sara Ann Patterson is one of the most famous “Elvis Girls” from Tupelo. Not his girlfriend, but is a woman with a special memory; she was kissed by the King. At 15, she got backstage at a concert in Tupelo and received a hug and a kiss from the superstar. “It was simply outrageous,” remembers Patterson, now 68. “My heart nearly stopped, all my female classmates envied me and I got fan mail from around the world.” She wore the clothes she had on at the concert until they fell apart.
In 1948, Elvis sang a goodbye song to Tupelo's Milam Junior High School with his $7 guitar and moved with his family 120 km northeast to Memphis. In the basement of the family's new apartment, the young Elvis practised his singing and guitar playing. As a student at LC Humes High School, his passion for music of all kinds began to grow. Gospel music from the city's churches and the wild blues in the clubs of Memphis' famous Beale Street captured his imagination. Gospel would always remain his favourite style. In 1953, 18-year-old Elvis walked into Sun Records with four dollars in his pocket to record a ballad. Within two years Elvis was a superstar. He outraged sensibilities with his sexy hip swings and “black” musical style, singing his way into the hearts of millions of girls, appearing in films and on television. The King of Rock ‘ n' Roll was born.
The fascination remains even decades later. “I gave the Elvis cult a maximum three or four years after his death,” said friend George Klein. But looking at the hype still surrounding Graceland, it is clear that Elvis still lives at 75.