It’s hard to believe that Elvis Presley has been gone for so long. August 16 marks the anniversary of his death in 1977. On that day, a sense of disbelief overwhelmed Elvis fans like me. How could it happen? Why didn’t we see it coming?
In retrospect, we now know that Elvis’s health was unstable for several years leading up to his passing. Despite this, he kept up a grueling schedule that would have taxed the energy of a much healthier, younger man. Between mid-March 1976 and the end of June 1977, Elvis spent a total of 141 days on tour around the country, with additional engagements in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. Throughout this period, Elvis dealt with legal problems, strained relationships with fired employees, and recurring health issues. Many reviews of his stage shows during this time provided clues to his deteriorating condition. Unfortunately, Elvis was moving too fast from city to city, making it difficult for the public to piece together the puzzle.
Elvis kicked off his 1976 tour schedule in March with a whirlwind tour through the Southeast. Reviews of his appearance in Cincinnati were brutally honest about his physical appearance and movements on stage. The Cincinnati Enquirer described his puffy eyes, ample cheeks, fleshy neck, and weight gain. They even mentioned his enormous six-inch wide belt, which split a rear seam in his powder-blue pants. It was clear that Elvis’s health and physical condition were declining.
However, there were moments of kindness in some reviews. In Kansas City and Omaha, reviewers praised Elvis’s charisma and his ability to entertain despite reports of depression, debilitation, and weight gain. But as Elvis traveled west, reviews became less forgiving. In Long Beach, Denise Kusel compared watching Elvis to “watching a chubby puppet wrapped in a double chin and a foreign body work through a series of Elvis songs.” The decline was apparent.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1976, Elvis worked tirelessly with only occasional breaks, too short to fully restore his health. Reviewers in Bloomington and Largo took notice of his weight problems, but many critics focused solely on his appearance rather than his overall health. Few wondered about the potential impact on his well-being.
By the end of August, Elvis appeared completely worn down. Reviewer John H. Anderson described his outfit, his puffy face, and his less-than-stellar vocals. It was clear that Elvis was struggling physically and emotionally.
Despite his declining health, Elvis continued to tour. In Chicago, he surprised fans who had heard rumors of his weight gain, proving that he still had the ability to captivate an audience. Positive reviews from Fort Wayne and Los Angeles gave hope that Elvis was regaining his former self. But the optimism was short-lived.
In February 1977, Elvis’s condition worsened. Reviewers described an overweight, aging rock star going through the motions. Fans watched as his performances became lackluster and filled with missed notes and slurred speech. Elvis’s illness was apparent, but his determination to continue performing overshadowed his declining health.
Elvis’s last concerts in May and June 1977 revealed a tired and disinterested superstar who seemed to be just trying to survive each night on stage. It was painful for fans to read the reviews, knowing what was to come just three months later.
No one saw Elvis’s sad ending as clearly as Ken Williams, who reviewed his concert in Cincinnati on June 25, 1977. He openly pleaded with Elvis to retire for his own sake and for the sake of his fans. Williams described the King as paunchy, puffy, and lacking energy. It was a heartbreaking plea for Elvis to save himself.
In the end, Elvis’s fans were powerless to save him. His decline was evident, but the adoration and loyalty of his fans kept him on the stage. It’s a bittersweet dilemma for those of us who saw him perform in his final years. We will always cherish the memories of seeing him live, but we can’t help but wonder if we could have done more to protect him.
As we remember Elvis on this anniversary, let’s celebrate his legacy as an incredible artist and remember the joy he brought into our lives. Farewell, Elvis, the King of Rock ‘n Roll.
Go to All about Elvis for more information.