It had been only four years since Elvis Presley’s “Aloha from Hawaii Satellite Special”. In 1977, “Elvis in Concert” was broadcast to shocked fans. Recorded less than two months before his death, we see an Elvis we had never seen before.
Timeline (1973-1977.) Elvis and his wife Priscilla divorce. According to his bodyguards Red West, Sonny West and David Hebler (from the paperback “Elvis: What Happened?”), Elvis orders a “hit” on her lover Mike Stone after a phone call with his ex-wife. They (Priscilla and Stone) both suggest that his daughter Lisa Marie shouldn’t visit him alone, because of the “crazy atmosphere in Graceland.” Eventually, saner heads prevail and the hit is called off.
1974. Elvis sings at the massive Houston Astrodome to a sold out stadium.
August 19, 1974. Elvis remakes and sings an entirely new set of songs for a Las Vegas audience. Because of what Elvis thought was a lukewarm reaction, he returns to the old standards after one night only. This is a shame as his new set contained some of his most ambitious songs from the mid-70’s.
Elvis turns forty and records an excellent album “Elvis Today” with the standout single “Pieces of My Life”. Few notice it.
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, plus “removal of all drug references.” 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.
Replaced by Kris Kristofferson, (who wins a Golden Globe), the movie becomes a major success, winning an Oscar for Best Song.
The 1976 Elvis album “From Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis, Tennessee’ produces the single “Hurt”.
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.
1977 brings further changes. Elvis fires key members of the “Memphis Mafia” (his bodyguards), who write a tell-all book about him. (“Elvis: What Happened?”) Longtime live-in girlfriend Linda Thompson calls it quits, saying she would have a nervous breakdown, if she continued on. She is replaced by Ginger Alden. Elvis weight balloons, his health deteriorates and charges of drug abuse begin in the mainstream media.
Elvis becomes disgusted with a bad deal he’d made with the Colonel , selling off most of his song catalog (1956-1973) for a few million dollars. Consequently, his new album “Moody Blue” has to be pieced together from live recordings and his last session in the Jungle Room.
“Way Down” (single from the “Moody Blue” album)
June 1977. CBS offers to do a new TV special. The Colonel accepts. Two shows are videotaped on June 19 and 21. 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.
There are a number of songs Elvis doesn’t seem to care about anymore. He forgets the words from “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” He sleepwalks through “Teddy Bear” and “Don’t Be Cruel”. He attempts to move during “C.C. Ryder” and “Hound Dog”. The only highlight from the first show is “My Way”.
The Second Show. Elvis manages to sing decent versions of “You Gave Me a Mountain” and “Hurt”. The real standouts are “How Great Thou Art” and “Unchained Melody”.
Perhaps, Elvis had a premonition of his own death. His stepbrother David Stanley said he did. Whatever the reason, Elvis invests his last energies into these songs. It’s not hard to see why he died based on his appearance. It’s hard to understand why there was no one to stop it.
What can one say about “Elvis in Concert”? Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick comments from his book “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley”…
“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.
“Unchained Melody” was originally not shown until years later in “Elvis – The Great Performances”. Peter Guralnick describes the last song.
“Ultimately, the song 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.”
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.
Perhaps, Elvis had a premonition of his own death. His stepbrother David Stanley said he did. Whatever the reason, Elvis his last energies into these songs. It’s not hard to see why he died based on his appearance. It’s hard to understand why there was no one to stop 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.
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 listed as a heart attack.
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