Depending on when you were born, Elvis Presley—who died forty-two years ago today—was the King of Rock and Roll and a practising demi-God, or a morbidly obese Las Vegas cabaret singer who didn’t even write his own songs. It largely depends on whether you were born in the forties—in which case he was a genius—or the fifties—in which case you were more of a Beatles type anyway.
Falling squarely into the latter category I was one of those people who was puzzled at the mawkish outpouring of grief when Elvis died on 16 August 1977 and those spangly white costumes, which latterly had almost been painted on to his frame, were no more. Personally, I was more affected by the death of the great Groucho Marx the same week.
As is the case with most icons there are many myths surrounding the life, times and music of Elvis Presley. Among these is the notion that Presley and Oprah Winfrey are related. Which occasionally morphs into the narrative that Oprah’s ancestors were once slaves on the Presley estate. This, however, is hard to reconcile with the idea of Elvis being descended from an impoverished line of Mississippi sharecroppers who were forced to shoot, skin and eat squirrels to stay alive. Plantation owners were more of the ‘mint julep on the porch’ variety.
Then there is the rumour that Elvis had a pet chimpanzee named Scatter who died of alcoholic poisoning. Well, this one definitely has at least an element of truth about it. Elvis had a lot of pets, and one of them was a chimpanzee named Scatter who often dressed, like his owner, in Hawaiian shirts. Whether or not he was spoon-fed liquor and died as a result, however, remains merely a nasty rumour.
But, of course, the abiding myth that surrounds Elvis is that he is still ‘taking care of business’, holed up somewhere with that other great immortal Jim Morrison. Neither man, thousands of people fervently hold as an act of blind faith, ever left the building.
Apparently, the King’s Graceland mansion included a secret tunnel dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad, when slaves were smuggled out of the South to freedom in the North. Elvis is supposed to have abandoned his career by means of this nineteenth-century convenience, rather than actually having died of a heart attack on his own twentieth-century convenience. He is then alleged to have purchased a ticket to Buenos Aires in the name of John Burrows the day after his faked death. Why is this significant, you ask? And I will tell you, as breathlessly as possible. The man who bought the ticket looked very Elvish and the alias ‘John Burrows’ was often used by Presley’s management team when booking hotel rooms for him anonymously.
Presleyean conspiracy theorists also point to the misspelling of his middle name on his gravestone as a clear indication of an intention to simulate his own demise. Now when you look at this gravestone it clearly reads ‘Elvis Aaron Presley’, the spelling being all present and correct. Except, apparently, Elvis’s middle name on his birth certificate was spelt ‘A-R-O-N’ as opposed to the more conventional ‘A-A-R-O-N.’ Which monumental typo, obviously demonstrates a clear intent to leave a wax dummy in your open coffin and do a bunk for Argentina where your savings would immediately have been eroded by rampant inflation.
The wax dummy theory, by the way, is lent credence by the weight of the coffin, which clocked in at nine hundred pounds. This was, supposedly, because it housed an air conditioning unit to prevent the wax from melting in the August Tennessee heat. Clearly, it had nothing to do with the fact that Elvis himself weighed almost nine hundred pounds at the time of his death.
Between 1977 and 1981 six of his new releases became top ten singles. This prompted people unfamiliar with the concept of ‘recording’ or ‘archive’ to assume that he was still active in the music business. He was also said to have appeared as an extra in the film Home Alone thirteen years after his faked death. Sightings of him are now more frequent than those of the much older and more credible Loch Ness monster. You can expect him to turn up soon doing tours of Graceland, and for the first miracles to be cited in his name.
So, is Elvis still alive somewhere, possibly working as a vaquero on the Argentinian Pampas, at the grand old age of eighty-four? Well, we should probably assume that he was dead when an autopsy was performed on his body and, tentatively and regrettably, accept this as fake history.
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