August 16, 1977: Elvis Presley dies, age 42

Elvis Presley is shown in this 1957 file photo. (AP Photo/File)

Elvis Presley is shown in this 1957 file photo. (AP Photo/File)


On this day in 1977, the music world lost one of its biggest stars. Here’s more on Elvis Presley’s iconic career and why he’s still considered ‘the King’ 45-years after his death.

In just 42-short years, Elvis Presley transformed rock n’ roll in America. While his famous Tennessee mansion is still an ongoing symbol of his life, Elvis’s journey began in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935- far from the glitz and glamour of Graceland.

At age 19, Presley, who had been working as a truck driver, decided to give music a chance. He paid four dollars to record a few songs at a Memphis studio. The studio’s owner, Sam Phillips, liked what he heard and released a single of Elvis singing “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on his label Sun Records.

The songs were a hit by regional standards and Phillips eventually sold Presley’s contract to RCA for $35,000. Presley’s first RCA release was “Heartbreak Hotel.” That song skyrocketed Elvis career and help turn him into a superstar.

His appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 only boosted his appeal to young audiences. Parents protested his dance moves because they deemed them to be sexually suggestive. 1956 also marked Presley’s first film role as he starred in ‘Love Me Tender’.

Elvis started an 18-month army term in 1958. He was ultimately discharged as a Sergeant in 1960.

For the rest of the decade Elvis appeared in more than two dozen movies. Some of his most famous movies include ‘King Creole’ (’58), ‘G.I. Blues’ (’60), ‘Blue Hawaii’ (’61) ‘Fun in Acapulco’ (’63) and ‘Viva Las Vegas’ (’64).

The King of Rock and Roll married Priscilla Ann Beaulieu on May 1, 1967. The two exchanged vows at an intimate ceremony in Las Vegas. The couple first met in 1959 when overseas in Germany. Priscilla’s father was an Air Force Captain and she lived on the base. Elvis was serving in the army at the time. The couple had one child together. Lisa Marie Presley was born on February 1, 1968.

One of Elvis’s most famous musical performances, the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special, premiered the December of that year. The hour-long TV special, then dubbed ‘Elvis’, was the singers return to music. The performance proved to the public that the then 33-year-old still had his magical stage presence. It was his first live performance after seven years of being in the film industry.

On July 31, 1969 Elvis started a seven year long residency in Las Vegas. The residency was at the International Hotel, which is now known as the Las Vegas Hilton. There, he would often preform two shows-per-night. In total, he played 636 shows in Las Vegas. Every single show would sell out.

In his final years he became reclusive, gained weight and become addicted to prescription drugs. Presley died of heart failure in 1977.

But more than four decades later his popularity is stronger than ever. A movie based on his life was released in June 2022. It’s titled ‘Elvis’. The film is directed by Australian writer and director Baz Luhrmann. Austin Butler stars in the leading role. The blockbuster has been a worldwide success. So far, it has accumulated $261 million at the box office.

Many of Elvis’s fans travel to Memphis, Tennessee to get glimpse of the King’s famous residence. At peak tourist times, more than 4,000 visitors tour his Graceland home daily. Many fans return to his house every August 16 for a vigil in honor of the late singer.

So while he died on this day in 1977, Elvis’s continued popularity gives new meaning to the phrase “the King is dead, long live the King.”

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Sophia Flores
Author: Sophia Flores

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