Gotta Find My Baby!

August 12, 2022

Moody Blue: The Last Days of Elvis

After the excellent New Year's Eve show in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Elvis flew in the early hours of January 1, 1977 directly to Graceland to rest until his first commitments that year.

But the truth, as we all know, is that the King of Rock no longer felt pleasure in performing and recording songs. He had had enough of the same repertoire for at least three years and already dreaded the arrival of the long and innocuous seasons in Las Vegas. Furthermore, he'd realized that many of the people he regarded as friends were just leeches in search of a carefree life—as long as Elvis Presley could get on stage, they were good.

The 1975/1976 biennium had not been a period of much happiness. Elvis was hospitalized in February 1975 due to an overdose of drugs and intestinal problems, being accompanied a few days later by his father who had had a heart attack. This further delayed his contracts with RCA, which had to force him to record at least one full album that year - which Elvis did between March 10 and 12, creating the LP Today.

The March 1975 season in Las Vegas and the April through July tours were somewhat productive, although Elvis displayed an already typical disinterest in the material he was required to sing. The only things he was more or less excited about were the new songs added to the setlist to promote his new work and the ever-increasing adoration of the fans. The press, however, preferred to quote Elvis as "forty and fat."

By the time August 1975 arrived, and consequently another stint at the Hilton, he was worn out. The three nights he performed before having to cancel the engagement saw an Elvis feverish, disoriented and complaining a lot of incessant toothaches. Despite this, he still put on good performances, given the circumstances, including singing the now rare "Suspicious Minds" for the last time in his career. The new hospital admission in September did nothing for him to find enthusiasm in what he was doing, ending the year only with the completion of the postponed shows in Vegas and the great concert for 60,500 people - his biggest audience in his career - in Pontiac, Michigan, on December 31.

1976 had been a year of more ups than downs and Elvis was happy with how things were going. His desire to record was still low, but the sessions at Graceland's Jungle Room were fun and very productive. He no longer seemed interested in Las Vegas, and Vegas was reciprocal, causing the Colonel to cast him for just one season from December 2 to 12 at the Hilton; this, as we know today, would be the last of his career in the city. Rather than the dry air of the Nevada desert, the King of Rock chose to do just one more season in Lake Tahoe—where he had last performed two years earlier—between April 30 and May 9, 1976.

By the middle of that year, it didn't look like Elvis had returned to his old form or that it was possible. His performances were still erratic, and he would be slow and sometimes confused at the start of the concerts, though nothing like the terrible performances of August 1975 in Las Vegas. In fact, the singer would greatly improve his performance starting in June, culminating in the great show of December 31, 1976 in Pittsburgh, but it was clear that he no longer had that flame that burned in his core.

1977 arrived with a chaotic scenario. As Bill Clinton took his first public office as Attorney General, the press spoke of Elvis to recount "the misfortunes" of the previous year. The singer, perhaps rejuvenated by the rest of the beginning of that year or wanting to show that he had not lost his breath due to the proximity of the release of the infamous book "Elvis: What Happened?", had decided to change things around him.

Elvis and his musicians began picking out a large set of songs to record in January, hiring Creative Workshop Recording in Nashville, Tennessee, as their studio. The meetings would take place between January 20 and 25, 1977 and would have as their agenda the renewal of Elvis Presley and his arrival in the seventies music scene, but unfortunately the singer never attended the workshops where the new songs would be evaluated. The press got wind of this, and Memphis' Press Scimitar made a point of stressing that Elvis was a no-strings-attached artist in their February 2nd story about the incident - the day the singer started the first recording session of 1976 at Graceland's Jungle Room.

The story did nothing to improve Elvis' psychological condition. In addition to receiving criticism from the press, he was unhappy with his health, his physique and the pace of his life. These conditions, allied to his already known manias, contributed a lot to him giving himself even more to the prescription drugs in an attempt to escape from a world that only knew how to see the negative side of Elvis Presley.

The first season of the 1977 shows kicked off on February 12 in Hollywood and Elvis' general appearance surprised the audience in a negative way. He was much more bloated than he had been at the end of 1976, practically muttering and devoting most of the performance to instrumental sections, audience conversations, and introductions of band members, relatives, and friends. Although the last two shows of the tour - in Charlotte on February 20 and 21 - were a little better, this would be a sad summary of what an Elvis performance was that month.

It was obvious that the King of Rock needed immediate rest. He was hesitant to admit this, as he put on himself the responsibility of supporting everyone around him and knew that finances were not going well, but he ended up accepting a vacation at his home in Hawaii. He arrived in the islands on March 4 and dedicated himself exclusively to having fun, losing a good amount of weight and enjoying the sun on the beaches. Unfortunately, his vacation had to be hastily cut short on March 12 - the day he was due to visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which he had helped found and had been a constant donor since 1961 - due to an eye infection that forced him to return to Memphis and , consequently, to the stages.

Before leaving for Hawaii on March 3, 1977, Elvis had decided to catch up on some business. Renewed by his new love interest - Ginger Alden - the singer agreed to take out a $55,000 loan to Dr. Nick in exchange for 7% interest and 25 years payback. He also accepted Vernon's request to sign his will. Ginger was a witness that Elvis signed in the document that Vernon would be the executor and trustee of his estate and responsible for ensuring education, health, comfortable life and well-being for him, Minnie Mae and Lisa Marie, his only heir.

Tempe, Arizona was the first city to welcome Elvis on March 23 for his second tour of the year. He was practically unrecognizable. His speech was even more confused than the month before, the presentation dragged on and he had gained considerable weight. Even his face was different, resembling that of an old man. Things improved a bit over the next few days and Elvis was even willing to sing songs that required a lot of his vocals, such as "Steamroller Blues", but he still devoted large portions of his performances to his band - including inserting solos by Sherrill Nielsen and Kathy Westmoreland.

But as we know, when all looked good in 1977, nothing was fine. After a bad show on March 30, the last performances of the tour were canceled and Elvis rushed to another hospitalization - his last - in Memphis. He suffered from complications of glaucoma, constipation, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and had self-medicated with high doses of barbiturates. Elvis was discharged from the hospital on April 4 and returned to Graceland to rest. The press was suspicious of the real reasons for the hospitalization, but reproduced the Colonel's note that said he was "well and recovered, waiting to return to the stage on the 21st in Greensboro."

In fact, Elvis returned to touring in Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 21, 1977. The performances from then until May 3 were much better than the two previous tours, as Elvis felt somewhat rested and knew that Felton Jarvis and RCA would be recording his performance for a possible live album. It's from April 24, for example, that came the magnificent version of "Unchained Melody" and the fun "Little Darlin'" present on the LP Moody Blue.

May 20 marked the start of yet another tour and Elvis looked physically well despite clearly failing health. It was the next day that he had one of the biggest scares of his later years, when he collapsed in his hotel room in Knoxville, Kentucky. Hastily summoned, Dr. Nick had to put the singer's head in a bucket of ice water to revive him. It was also on that day that the Colonel showed his darkest side and burst into the room to say the now infamous phrase: "All that matters is that this man is on that stage tonight!"

Times were hard and Elvis was hard to deal with. He was stubborn in his opinions and habits and often liked to lecture his friends in religious morals. Furthermore, he has become somewhat inattentive to his habit of carrying guns even during concerts.

When he arrived in Binghampton, New York, in the early hours of May 26, 1977, he was advised by a police interlocutor that he could not carry weapons in the restricted area of ​​the airport, but he disregarded the possibility that he was not armed in case of any eventuality. As he got out of the Lisa Marie around 3am, still in his karate-style pajamas and with hundreds of fans screaming his name, two loaded Colt semiautomatic pistols dropped from his waist and rolled down the stairs. On another occasion during the same period, a 22-caliber Derringer pistol flew out of one of his boots during a concert and landed directly in front of gun-hating John Wilkinson, staying there for a good 20 minutes.

On May 29, Elvis again showed his fragile health as he had to leave the stage for half an hour in Baltimore, Maryland. He attributed it to a sprained ankle and "a call of nature", but deep down everyone knew things were much more serious than they appeared. Elvis tried to reassure everyone - and himself - by putting songs that required great effort into his repertoire, such as "An American Trilogy" and "Polk Salad Annie", but nothing took away from the public's mind that something was very wrong.

The first half of 1977 would end with ten shows on a very special tour. Trying to bring Elvis back to the focus of world music, the Colonel signed a contract for the realization of a TV special with the CBS network - which would give rise to the now known Elvis in Concert.

On June 17 and 18, Springfield and Kansas, both in Missouri, saw a somewhat distant Elvis. He had regained some weight and his voice was more slurred than ever. In particular, only the rare version of "Blue Christmas" outside the Christmas season can be mentioned among the songs of these concerts.

For the TV special, CBS and RCA accompanied Elvis and recorded his performance on the 19th, 20th and 21st. Much of the material from Omaha, Nebraska, could not be used due to technical problems and the singer's bad appearance. From Lincoln, also in Nebraska, nothing could be saved. It was left to CBS and RCA to turn to the show in Rapid City, South Dakota, which was much better than the previous days, to put together the TV show and the soundtrack album.

Both companies decided not to record the next few days, fearing that the material would be the same or worse. But, oddly enough, Elvis had turned the tables on his last five shows, delivering dynamic, enthusiastic, energetic performances — to the possible extent. All 18,000 fans who saw him in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 26, the day of his last show, agree that he was slow and quite breathless, but he put on a fantastic and emotional concert that included versions of the then-rare "I Can' t Stop Loving You", "Release Me" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

In those days, the certainty was that Elvis Presley was sick, but not forgotten and discarded as the press reported daily. His fans followed him until the last minute of the last show, applauding and being moved by his dedication to the stage and to themselves even in the most difficult moments. Therefore, Elvis was never forgotten.

Within hours of finishing his performance in Indianapolis, Indiana, on the night of June 26, 1977 - the date that would mark the last show of his career - Elvis was flying to Memphis for a well-deserved 50-day break before his new tour in August.

The June tour hadn't been the best, but the last few days of it showed some light at the end of the tunnel. From the 21st, Elvis was more dynamic and attentive to his performance, he had lost some weight and returned to command the stage. Indianapolis was no different, despite being a little slow.

After a late-night flight, Elvis arrives at Graceland on the morning of June 27. He would then have 50 days to rest and catch up before the next big tour, which would include three cities his show had never been taken to and a return to Memphis for the last two of the 12 shows scheduled for that tour.

While in Memphis, Elvis had a great time with family and friends at his mansion and at attractions in the city. The singer also focused on catching up on his reading, Bible study and what he loved most - his car and buggy trips through the busy streets of the heart of the city adopted as his hometown since 1956. The relationship with Ginger remained strong, but all they knew is that it wasn't as strong as he had been with Linda Thompson; in fact, Mafia friends would later confess that they missed her. Lisa spent a lot of time with her father, grandfather, and great-grandmother at Graceland, something that had become sacred to Elvis.

On July 19, 1977, the LP Moody Blue hit stores and became a bestseller, something that hadn't happened in a while. The single "Way Down / Pledging My Love", released just over a month earlier, had paved the way for such an outcome, having been acclaimed by fans and critics alike. Prior to that, on November 29, 1976, another single, "Moody Blue / She Thinks I Still Care", had been a watershed between low expectations about Elvis releases and a newfound adoration from old and new fans.

On August 1, Elvis' worst nightmare of his last year came with the arrival of "Elvis: What Happened?" to bookstores. The book written by former bodyguards Red West, Sonny West and Dave Hebler was a direct shot at the singer's heart with absurd lies about his conduct and health out of the public eye. The King of Rock had talked to Red in a long phone call back in 1976 and asked him not to go ahead with the project, but West had refused to listen to him and said that it was all his former boss and friend's fault.

Elvis, according to family members, was inconsolable with the betrayal. That book did much more than baseless revelations about the music icon, putting him in a state of depression almost never seen before. For the first few days of the month, he'd been mostly in his room, going out only at night for buggy rides with Ginger and Lisa.

Wanting to throw off the fans who would surely be at Forest Hill Cemetery waiting for him to visit Gladys' grave on August 14, Elvis decided to pay tribute to his mother on the 11th. It was a quick trip without security, precisely to avoid attracting attention, but it could have meant a lot to him. Visiting his mother's grave days before his passing could well be a sign that the King of Rock was looking for a light on his life and his next steps that he couldn't find anywhere else.

On the afternoon of August 12, Elvis decided to take a buggy ride again with his friends and met some fans at the mansion's gates. Contrary to what was said at the time, he was not extremely obese or overly sad. That night, the singer went out with Lisa and Ginger to try to watch "Star Wars" at a private cinema session, but he couldn't get a copy and ended up watching the new 007 movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me".

Days 13 to 15 were normal and went as expected in Elvis' routine. After reading late into the night, the singer would usually wake up around 4:30 pm and watch television until the end of the night, when he would decide what he was going to do outside of Graceland until it was time to go to bed again. When he wasn't in front of his TV, the King of Rock would go to the kitchen to prepare delicious - and extremely caloric - sandwiches to satisfy his appetite created by hours of inactivity and clear depression.

Elvis packed his bags to leave for Portland, Maine, where he would do the first show of his new tour on August 17, 1977, in the early evening of the 15th. He complained to his close ones that he felt an incessant toothache and that's why he wanted to schedule his private dentist later that night, around 10:30 pm. Returning to Graceland at 12:30 am on August 16, he was carrying a large amount of codeine prescribed by his dentist to relieve the pain he felt in his teeth.

Exactly what happened at Graceland in the next 14 hours remains a mystery. It is known that Elvis played squash with Billy and Jo Smith, and then played the piano and sang for a few hours before taking Lisa to bed. After trying to sleep for a while, he got up and went to read in his private bathroom. Ginger would find him unconscious at 2:30 pm on August 16, 1977 and the saddest moment for all fans and the music world came true: Elvis had left the building and entered history.

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