“Careless Love”: Peter Guralnick’s second volume on the life and death of Elvis Presley.
In 1975, Elvis was offered to play opposite Barbra Streisand in “A Star is Born” (1976.) Initially accepted, Col. Tom Parker was outraged that Streisand would go to Elvis first without consulting him. The deal: Elvis was offered $500,000 plus 10% of the profits after the break-even point. The Colonel’s counteroffer: $1 million with 50% of the profits. This effectively ruined the deal. You could mark this as the beginning of the end for Elvis Presley. With no challenges left; without a serious film role, everything went downhill from there.
1973-1977: It was the last four years of his life where his addiction grew to out-of-control proportions. Whatever the cause, (some cite his ’73 divorce), Elvis’ death is a reminder of the dangers of drugs, prescribed or otherwise.
June 1977. After a four year absence from television, Elvis appears in two videotaped shows videotaped for CBS, ultimately titled “Elvis in Concert”. The program aired twice and has not been seen since, except for bootleg discs, tapes and uploads. Elvis’ estate refuses to acknowledge it. This, I believe, is a mistake.
At the time of death, Elvis had fourteen drugs in his system, most notably Quaalude’s and Codeine. [I.E., probable cause of death being polypharmacy; the deadly interaction of these drugs, mixed together. The official cause of death was a heart attack.]
What can one say about “Elvis in Concert”? Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick writes “It is almost unbearable to listen to or to watch the obliteration not just of beauty, but of the memory of beauty, and in its place sheer, stark terror. It was like he was saying ‘Okay, here I am, I’m dying, fuck it.'”
There are moments when Elvis pulls himself together, just to let the audience know he’s still alive. “How Great thou Art” that classic, gospel favorite stands out. (YouTube video uploaded by High Desert Astronomy Larry Pearson.)
Elvis sings “How Great thou Art”
“My Way” is the only song used from the first recorded show (the rest judged unsuitable for broadcast.) A Sinatra standard, “My Way’s” lyrics pretty much capture the situation at hand. “And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain…” (YouTube video uploaded by Alexander Eriksson Elvis.)
Elvis sings “My Way”
“Unchained Melody” was originally not shown until years later in “Elvis – The Great Performances”. Peter Guralnick writes…
“Unchained Melody would prove too raw for network broadcast. At the end of the show, Elvis sat down at the piano and with Charlie Hodge holding a hand mike, launched into “Unchained Melody” in which he seemed to invest every fiber of his being. Hunched over the piano, his face framed in a helmet of blue-black hair from which sweat sheets down over pale, swollen cheeks, Elvis looks like nothing so much as a creature out of a Hollywood monster film – and yet we are with him all the way as he struggles to achieve grace. It is a moment of what can only be described as grotesque transcendence.” (YouTube video uploaded by Jack London.)
Elvis sings “Unchained Melody”
What impresses me most is Elvis determination to get through this song no matter what. Some have remarked that it’s a wonder he didn’t die of a heart attack while singing it.
August 16, 1977. Elvis Presley is found by his girlfriend Ginger Alden, collapsed by his toilet, already dead. The last thing he tried to do is crawl for help to the bedroom where she slept.
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