It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday, 16 August 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley was at home in his mansion at Graceland. He was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. But sleep didn’t come easily to Elvis. So he was pumped full of drugs and left alone to die. The way I see it, is that Elvis was destroyed by many of the people who were closest to him; those who were supposed to love and care for him. I’ll never understand how a man who was revered and gave so much to the world in his short life died in such a shocking way.
In those days, international media reports didn’t travel fast so Australians weren’t hit with the tragic news until the next day. Although 45 years have passed since the death of the King, I will never forget the moment I found out. As a matric (old fashioned word for Grade 11) student, I had decided to leave school early that day because I wanted to get home before the storm or decided to wag the afternoon. The latter was more likely. It was a cold winter’s day with angry dark clouds above threatening to burst at any moment. But the threat of rain was soon to become the least of my worries. As I walked in the back door around lunch time, I could see Mum was doing two very unusual things. She was in the kitchen, and she was crying. Something was wrong and it was huge.
No need for conversation
‘Elvis Presley died today’. That’s all she said with her head turned away from me. I felt like I wanted to hug her, but Mum wasn’t the hugging type. I would have preferred to have been hit with a sledgehammer than hear that news. Stunned, I went to my bedroom trying to process what she had said. Elvis had been the love of my life since I knew of his existence. And now he was dead.
Direct from his Graceland home
This week I had the chance to go the Elvis Presley exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery with my friend Steve. The exhibition showcased Elvis’ life in artefacts including ‘costumes and cherished vintage memorabilia. Fashion highlights included Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding outfits, the special costume created in 1968 that he wore to meet President Nixon, ‘the diamond-encrusted Maltese cross necklace designed by Linda Thompson, and a dazzling array of Vegas jumpsuits. Personal treasures including his gold telephone, karate gi and his first-grade crayon box’.
Even as a grandmother I still feel the same way
I looked around at the people viewing the exhibits. Most of them were from vintage stock soon to become memorabilia themselves. Just like Steve and me, I guess. They were all laughing raucously and seemed happy. Everyone except for me. I felt miserable as I gazed at the costumes. Elvis’s sexy, sweaty body had actually been tightly constricted in those fabrics, leathers and sequins all those years ago.
So near yet so far
Never in my life had I imagined I’d come so close to the memory of my idol. Yet so far at the same time. The costumes were exhibited on an island in the middle of the gallery enclosed in a wall of thick protective glass. I could’ve stretched my arms out and touched the fabrics or hugged an Elvis attired mannequin if it hadn’t been for that glass. Or the secret Elvis protectors sneakily circulating amongst the crowd.
The music. And was it normal to feel this way?
Elvis’ music flowed from every crevice of the gallery. Tenderness, compassion, sadness and love are just some of the emotions he conveyed through his voice. His extraordinary vocal range spanned almost three octaves from bass to tenor with every note perfectly executed. Being inundated with Elvis music made me want to lie on the floor in foetal position and weep. It made me think a lot about my own mortality. My death, my funeral, leaving my kids and grandies. Maybe I had underdosed on my anti D that morning.
The journey home
‘What are you thinking about?’ Steve asked me several times on the long drive home from Bendigo to Melbourne.
I was totally preoccupied with Elvis. His songs, his costumes, his life, his death ….. I thought about how he loved those who were closest to him.
Elvis made me think about my greatest love; the love I have for my three children. When I first looked into their shiny, dark open eyes moments after they were born, I immediately fell in love with each of them. I didn’t know a love so deep could grow and strengthen over the years.
I thought about my final song and decided to dedicate it to my children. It could be none other than Elvis’ version of ‘Can’t help falling in love’. After all, it won’t be about me any more. I’m glad that’s sorted.
Thank you Mr Elvis Presely. You were “the greatest entertainer of all time.”
Some photos taken by Steve at the Elvis Presley exhibition, Bendigo Art Gallery, July 2022
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