Elvis Presley died on this day in 1977. The reporter sent out to interview grieving fans in Seattle recalls, "I was flabbergasted" at the depths of emotion he witnessed.
Thirty-nine years ago, the king died.
Rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley was 42.
“Crowds of grief-stricken fans today jammed the sidewalk outside the gates of Graceland Mansion,” according to an article in the August 17, 1977, edition of The Seattle Times. Record shops across the country were jam-packed with buyers.
President Carter, in a statement, called Presley “unique” and “irreplaceable.”
Most Read Entertainment Stories
- Review: Has 'Hamilton,' at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, aged well?
- In HBO’s bizarre, hilarious ‘The Rehearsal,’ Nathan Fielder helps people prepare for real-life moments
- Free movies, concerts and more ways to stretch your entertainment dollars in the Seattle area
- Now streaming: 'A League of Their Own' on Prime Video, 'Day Shift' on Netflix and more
- 'Bodies Bodies Bodies' review: The cellphones come out and the bodies hit the floor in this brilliant sendup
Local reporters sought to put meaning to the king’s departure.
The Times’ Erik Lacitis tracked down punks at Golden Gardens. A 17-year-old in a high-powered Chevy truck told him, “It’s really a bummer. He’s the one that started it all.”
Adults were mystified, too.
“At the KJR offices in West Seattle, the receptionist sat before the switchboard and punched and talked to people who couldn’t believe the news,” Lacitis wrote.
No one wanted to believe that the “original punk,” as Lacitis called him, was gone.
“I was flabbergasted,” Lacitis said Tuesday, remembering the story. “I knew there were emotions involved by his fans, but talking to them, the depth of it was really unbelievable and still is.”
Lacitis said Elvis resonates with people born long after he died.
He was — and is — remembered for his rebel style, his hip-shaking expression of sexuality and his persona of Southern charm.
“He always said ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am.’ But we young fans felt we were in on a secret because when we saw him move on stage we knew he was no gentleman,” wrote Times music critic Patrick MacDonald. “On the Dorsey Brothers Show (where he first appeared on TV) or Ed Sullivan he would tone it down a lot and then give us knowing looks — at least we felt that was what he was doing — that said, ‘You and I know this isn’t the real stuff but it’s as close as I can get on TV.'”
Reports of his vices and insecurities made the paper, too. A former bodyguard told a reporter that Elvis took pills and shots nearly constantly, collected guns and shot out TV screens when a show he didn’t like appeared on TV.
“He’s a very lonely person. He’s a very unhappy person,” the bodyguard told a reporter in Chicago. “I’ve been around him since he was an unpopular high-school kid with acne, couldn’t make the football team. After all that he’s become, that kid is still inside him. He’s Elvis Presley, but he’s a lonely little kid.” As that interview took place, news of Presley’s death was reported by wire services.
Mostly, though, fans remembered the Elvis of their youth, who was “as cock-sure as a strutting rooster and twice as proud.”
The story in The Times ended succinctly: “He was the king. The king is dead. And a generation suddenly feels old.”