Elvis Presley: “The King” Rocks On, 45 Years Today After His Death

Elvis Presley: “The King” Rocks On, 45 Years Today After His Death

Four and a half decades have elapsed and countless guests have checked in and out of the Heartbreak Hotel since Elvis Presley “left the building”, so to speak, bidding goodbye to the world on August 16, 1977.

If the memory of his greatness and uniqueness as a musical artist has slightly faded over the decades since then, the stunning 2022 Hollywood blockbuster, Elvis, starring Austin Butler as “The King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and Tom Hanks as his manager Colonel Tom Parker, is a powerful reminder of what an unmatched giant musical and showbiz force he was – and continues to be.

The Baz Luhrmann’s music biopic, simply called “Elvis”, won its box-office dance-off with “Top Gun: Maverick,” ultimately grossing $31.1 million during opening weekend.

“The King” is still the king, and his value is rising non-stop since his death. An August 2022 auction celebrating Elvis at the Guest House at Graceland raised $330,531.

“Historically, it’s gone up every year,” Stephen Shutts, founder of Rockology Auctions in Nashville, Tennessee, said, referring to Elvis’ worth, in an interview with the Fox network.

“I know when I talk among other collectors and historians like myself, we think, ‘Will it taper off on the 30th anniversary?’ It didn’t. ‘Will it taper off [on] the 35th?’ And it didn’t. So every anniversary we’re surprised.”

Before “Elvis” the film, there was talk on whether the legend would still “be around” in our memory by the 50th anniversary of his death; whether fans would still go mushy over collectibles celebrating him — such as a belt to bangle, sunglasses, gold-plated telephone and his classic studded, white jumpsuit — and if those treasures would keep rising in value year after year.

Rockology is auctioning one of Elvis Presley’s gold phones from Graceland. (Rockology / Fox News)

“And today, I would say the 50th is going to be even bigger than the 45th” anniversary of Elvis’ passing, said Shutts.

“I don’t see it dropping off now in my lifetime at this point. I think with the new generations… the interest will continue to accelerate. And therefore, I think those that have disposable income to acquire and buy will… see it as an investment.”

Shutts said those who have no money to become collectors of Elvis memorabilia, become devotees instead at his shrine called Graceland.

“I do think they’re going to spend their money going to Graceland, going to Sun Records, going to Tupelo to see his birthplace,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of foreign buyers coming in that are traveling now since COVID [restrictions] lifted. And everyone I’ve talked to, from the travel side of it to the collecting side of it, they’ve seen a real spike in their sales and in businesses, which is good. It keeps Elvis’ name out there, but it’s also good for people like myself [who] are truly immersed in the Elvis business side of things.”

Having sold over 500 million records worldwide, Elvis is recognized as the best-selling solo music artist of all time by Guinness World Records. He was commercially successful in many genres, including pop, country, rhythm & blues, adult contemporary, and gospel.

The “iconic cover” of Presley’s 1956 debut album, an image crucial in codifying the guitar as the defining instrument of rock and roll

Elvis won three Grammy Awards, received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the age of 36, and has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame. He holds several records, including the most RIAA certified gold and platinum albums, the most albums charted on the Billboard 200, the most number-one albums by a solo artist on the UK Albums Chart, and the most number-one singles by any act on the UK Singles Chart. In 2018, Elvis was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

That wasn’t all. He was also a movie star, whose mere appearance guaranteed the run of the film. By and large, his films were formulaic, modestly budgeted musical comedies. Critics panned his acting. But his fans loved them enough to do repeat viewings, ensuring the success of many of his films. Some of Elvis’ most famous works as an actor included Jailhouse Rock (1957), Blue Hawaii (1961), and Viva Las Vegas (1964). In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special — also called “Elvis”, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Elvis gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii.

Born as Elvis Aaron Presley on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Presley and Gladys Love, “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” received his first guitar on his 10th birthday. He had hoped for something else — by different accounts, either a bicycle or a rifle. “I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it,” he said.

With no formal music training and no ability to read music, Elvis studied and played by ear. He also frequented record stores that provided jukeboxes and listening booths to customers.

Elvis received only a C in music in his eighth grade. When his music teacher told him that he had no aptitude for singing, he brought in his guitar the next day and sang a recent hit, “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me”, to prove otherwise. A classmate later recalled that the teacher “agreed that Elvis was right when he said that she didn’t appreciate his kind of singing”.

During his junior year, Elvis began to stand out more among his classmates, largely because of his appearance: he grew his sideburns and styled his hair with rose oil and Vaseline.

In January 1956, a week before his 21st birthday, Elvis recorded a cover version of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and made the first of his television appearances. Until then, most Americans had not heard a voice like that, a baritone so rich that in itself was a joy to listen to, never mind the words and music accompanying it. No other performer on TV had also wielded a guitar like him, with the lower half of the body perched on toes and wriggling on knees that acted as a fulcrum while the rest contorted rhythmically with the music; hands punching the air in time with the staccatos in the song, and a chiseled-like face with a classic pout to complete his Rock-God persona.

Elvis in publicity photos for the 1957 film Jailhouse Rock.

“The King” had arrived.

Each of the three Elvis singles released in the first half of 1957 went to number one: “Too Much”, “All Shook Up”, and “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”. Already an international star by the age of 22, he was attracting fans even where his music was not officially released.

Under the headline “Presley Records a Craze in Soviet”, The New York Times reported that pressings of his music on discarded X-ray plates were commanding high prices in Leningrad.

Between film shoots and recording sessions, Elvis also found time to purchase an 18-room mansion Graceland on March 19, 1957, for the amount of $102,500. The mansion, which was about 9 miles (14 km) south of downtown Memphis, was for himself and his parents.

Aside from family and friends, Elvis also showered gifts on just about anyone he cared, like the Las Vegas hotel employee who got a car from him.

“Everything that you hear about Elvis, things that he did, and things that he gave, he really did that,” said Alonzo Langstaff, who worked at the Las Vegas International Hotel where Elvis regularly stayed.

Elvis Presley in G.I. Blues (Paramount Pictures)

Leading up to the purchase of Graceland, Elvis recorded Loving You—the soundtrack to his second film, which was released in July. It was Presley’s third straight number-one album. The title track was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who were then retained to write four of the six songs recorded at the sessions for Jailhouse Rock, Presley’s next film. The songwriting team effectively produced the Jailhouse sessions and developed a close working relationship with Presley, who came to regard them as his “good-luck charm”. “He was fast,” said Leiber. “Any demo you gave him he knew by heart in ten minutes.” The title track was yet another number-one hit, as was the Jailhouse Rock EP.

Concerts and world tours aside, came the movies. Over an 11-year period from Jailhouse Rock — he did two prior to that — he starred in 28 movies, making for a grand total of 30. There were also separate full-feature documentaries like the 1970 Elvis: That’s the Way It Is and 1972 Elvis on Tour.

Shortly before Christmas 1966, more than seven years after they met the first time, Elvis proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu. They were married on May 1, 1967. His only child, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968. Elvis and Priscilla separated in 1972 and divorced a year later.

On the evening of Tuesday, August 16, 1977, Elvis was scheduled to fly out of Memphis to begin another tour. That afternoon, his girlfriend Ginger Alden discovered him in an unresponsive state on the bathroom floor of his Graceland mansion. Attempts to revive him failed. “The King” had left the world, at the age of 42.

The official cause of Elvis’ death appeared to have been heart failure, though he was long known for abuse of prescription medications including opiates, barbiturates, and sedatives. Some of these showed up in his blood during his post-mortem. In the years following his death, Elvis’ Memphis physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos aka “Dr. Nick” was implicated in the singer’s death. It’s such an irony that another global icon of music, Michael Jackson, who was briefly married to Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie, also died from abuse of drugs administered by his personal doctor. If that co-incidence wasn’t enough, Jackson was also “King” in his era — a self-styled “King of Pop”. So the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was actually father-in-law at one time to the King of Pop.

At the time of his death, Elvis’ net worth was $5 million, which was far less than what he earned over the previous three decades. In his lifetime, Elvis spent several million dollars acquiring and maintaining Graceland. While Presley left his money to daughter Lisa Marie, his ex-wife Priscilla and the family accountant, Joseph Hanks, oversaw Presley’s estate after his father, Vernon, the estate’s executor, passed away two years later at age 63.

Elvis’ estate was only bringing in about $1 million in 1979. Today, Elvis’ net worth is $20 million. In 2021, Forbes reported Elvis ranked #7 in their list of highest-paid dead celebrities with $30 million thanks to his estate recuperating and landing new partnerships.

Rockology is currently running an auction, which ends on Aug. 17, featuring dozens of items from iconic artists, including Elvis. Notable items include a stage-worn scarf from his final concert in June 1977, a gold rotary telephone used by Elvis at Graceland during the ‘60s, as well as a diamond-encrusted ring and matching bracelet from Ginger Alden, who was engaged to Elvis in 1977.

Shutts, who has been uncovering authentic memorabilia for 35 years, said his pieces will “definitely hit our estimates.”

“It’s truly an investment,” he said. “If you look at it from a business perspective, the value continues to escalate, especially when it comes to stage-worn clothing and jewelry. Every year passes, and I struggle to wrap my head around the phenomenon. It just grows and grows. And especially with this film… popularity just keeps going up.”

He said it is easy to see why Elvis memorabilia is more popular than ever.

“There’s certainly that mystique factor,” Shutts shared. “He died young… but he also had everything. It wasn’t just the looks, there’s the talent, the charisma. I think very few entertainers in the world have all those qualities… His image is youthful, his attractiveness continues to permeate into new generations. And I think young people… are rediscovering his music. He’s not just a beautiful face. This is also someone who had true talent and has ushered in so many artists that everyone listens to today.”

With the demand for authentic Elvis pieces at an all-time high, Shutts warned that the forgery market is just as strong. He said jumpsuits from Elvis’ glitzy ‘70s era are a major red flag. Shutts will even go as far as run a background check on a potential seller to ensure any item, especially a jumpsuit, is the real deal. It’s also the decade from Elvis’ career that’s most popular among collectors. Still, Shutts noted that following the release of “Elvis,” collectors have been inquiring about items from the ‘50s.

“When I hear ‘jumpsuit’ I’m immediately skeptical for the fact that I know where all of them are located, whether it’s in Graceland or private collectors’ hands,” he said. “About 25 years ago, the jumpsuits were in the $70-$80,000 range. Now they’re in the $350,000 range. Capes and belts once brought in $15-$20,000. They’re now in the six-figure realm… I could see in my lifetime a jumpsuit from a key concert or key era hitting the million-dollar mark.”

Shutts advised curious collectors to fact-check their sources before investing in any potential artifact. He also recommended first-timers to invest in authentic autographs as those can be put on display.

“Based on your budget, go after something that you would truly enjoy,” said Shutts. “Jewelry and autographs are always strong. If you have $2,000 or $2,500 hypothetically, there’s a lot you can still buy for that. “

But most importantly, have fun, he said.

“Elvis to me is probably the most Americana recording artist,” said Shutts. “If you look at the lineage, there are so many recording artists that stated Elvis was an influence. I don’t know anybody who’s not an Elvis fan. If someone said to me, ‘I’m not an Elvis fan,’ you’re just looking for attention… As far as his image and music, that will last beyond my lifetime. You can’t lose. It’s never going to go down in value. You can hand it down to your kids and grandkids, and they’re going to know exactly who Elvis was.”

Adapted from tributes by Fox Business, commercialappeal.com, Newsy and twoandcountrymag

Icicles hang on an Elvis statue at Graceland during winter. Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal

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