45 years after King’s death, he’s still making news
After some entertainers and other celebrities pass away, they fade away, too.
Elvis Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977. That event has not kept him off the front page, off the Billboard charts or off the movie and television screen.
Elvis made news for many of the 42 years of his life. But sometimes it seems like the 45 years since Elvis’ death have been just as busy with Elvis-related events and happenings.
So here’s a chronological year-by-year account of some of the stories about Elvis and his family, his friends and his work that have garnered attention since 1977. We picked one story per year, which means we left out a lot; but we hope that what is here will shed a little light onto the phenomenon of Elvis Presley.
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1978: The tradition of the “candlelight vigil” begins on the evening of Aug. 15, when a small group of fans gathered at Graceland in recognition of the Aug. 16 first anniversary of Elvis’ death. Originally a spontaneous show of devotion, the vigil soon becomes organized by Elvis fan clubs and sanctioned and abetted by Graceland. It now serves as the emotional climax of the annual “Elvis Week” celebration, with thousands of fans entering the gates of Graceland each Aug. 15, to make a pilgrimage to the Elvis gravesite.
1979: Vernon Presley, 63, Elvis’ father, dies of a heart attack on June 26 at the original (and now gone) Baptist Hospital — the same place where Elvis was pronounced dead. Vernon’s first wife, Elvis’ mother, Gladys, 46, had died of a heart attack in 1958.
1980: A bronze statue of a guitar-toting Elvis in a late-1960s-style fringed shirt is unveiled on Beale Street, where the future King of Rock ‘n’ Roll learned much of his craft. But the statue, by Eric Parks, proves too delicate, and souvenir-crazed fans strip it of its guitar strings and tassels. In 1994, the statue is moved indoors to the Downtown Memphis Tennessee Welcome Center; three years later, its place on Beale is filled by a new statue depicting a rockabilly-era Elvis in mid-gyration, sculpted by Andrea Lugar.
1981: Albert Goldman’s critical and controversial biography “Elvis” is published by McGraw-Hill. An immediate best-seller, the book incurs the wrath of fans and many music scholars, even as it affirms that Presley’s life is worthy of hard-cover, major-publisher treatment.
1982: Graceland opens to the public on June 7. Admission: $5.
1983: With a name endorsed by Shelby County Mayor and Elvis pal Bill Morris, the Elvis Presley Regional Trauma Center opens at what is now known as Regional One Health, the community hospital on Jefferson. It is the region’s only “Level 1” trauma center, for treatment of the most serious injuries and emergencies.
1984: On Feb. 22, Elvis’ two private jets — the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog II — arrive in Memphis and are transported down Elvis Presley Boulevard to serve as tourist attractions at Graceland.
1985: Credited to “Priscilla Beaulieu Presley with Sandra Harmon,” the memoir “Elvis and Me” is published by Putnam Books. An “intimate story that could only have been written by the woman who lived it,” according to publicists, the book is a best-seller.
1986: As expected, Elvis is among the first group of performers inductees into the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside James Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis.
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1987: “Bo-Day-Shus!!!,” the third album by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, introduces the song “Elvis is Everywhere,” which declares that “Elvis is everywhere/ Elvis is everything,” and credits the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle to the fact that “Elvis needs boats.” Nixon later would declare that his personal religious trinity consisted of Elvis, Foghorn Leghorn and Mayberry drunk tank habitué Otis Campbell.
1988: Author Gail Brewer-Giorgio lands appearances on “Larry King Live,” “Nightline” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” after she publishes “The Most Incredible Elvis Presley Story Ever Told,” later retitled “Elvis Alive,” which leads to numerous “Elvis sightings” and promotes the theory that Elvis faked his death.
1989: Featuring numerous Elvis references and a guest appearance by an Elvis ghost, Jim Jarmusch’s deadpan made-in-Memphis indie comedy “Mystery Train” premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 13.
1990: “Elvis,” a 1950s-set 10-episode ABC series that stars Michael St. Gerard as the young rock-and-roller, debuts on Feb. 6. Millie Perkins — the “Diary of Anne Frank” star who was one of the actual Elvis’ potential romantic interests in the 1961 film “Wild in the Country” — plays Elvis’ mother, Gladys.
1991: Graceland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — the first rock-and-roll-related site to be so honored.
1992: The once chaotically managed Elvis record catalog begins to receive the respect it deserves with the release of RCA’s “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete 50’s Masters,” a five-disc box set of epochal Presley music. It was soon followed by similar sets covering Elvis’ output in the 1960s and 1970s.
1993: Dedicated at Graceland on Jan. 8 (Elvis’ birthday), the U.S. Postal Service issues the first Elvis Presley stamp, a watercolor portrait of a young Elvis that public voters chose, in a promotional campaign, over an image of an older Elvis in a jumpsuit. The 29-cent stamp remains the most popular ever issued, selling about 500 million copies.
1994: Iggy Pop, Tony Bennett, Kris Kristofferson, Aaron Neville and Billy Ray Cyrus (accompanied to the show by his 2-year-old daughter, Miley) are among the performers at an Oct. 8 Elvis tribute concert held at the Pyramid and broadcast on ABC.
1995: The University of Mississippi receives widespread press coverage (The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are among the outlets that send reporters) as well as criticism (some people object to the presence of a lesbian Elvis impersonator named “Elvis Herselvis”) when it hosts the first international academic conference on Elvis Presley, formally titled “In Search of Elvis: Music, Race, Religion, Art, Performance,” in Oxford.
1996: The 1994 Elvis tribute at the Pyramid was star-studded, sure, but the show was stolen by a couple of non-performers: Lisa Marie Presley and her husband since May of that year, Michael Jackson, who waved to the crowd from a suite. The marriage ends in 1996, with the couple finalizing their divorce on Aug. 20.
1997: Originally praised but later maligned for his tight control of his star client’s career, “Colonel” Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, dies Jan. 27 in Las Vegas at 87.
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1998: Twelve years after his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame enshrinement, Elvis — whose 1954 appearance on the Grand Ole Opry was a flop — is elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. (He is inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001.)
1999: The last two decades of Elvis’ life are covered in “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley,” author Peter Guralnick’s acclaimed follow-up to 1994’s “Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.” Together, the volumes represent the definitive biography of Elvis.
2000: What would prove to be the last of the mom-and-pop Elvis shops, Boulevard Souvenirs, opens at 3706 Elvis Presley Blvd. Remaining stubbornly independent for years after Graceland buys out the rest of the stores in the mansion neighborhood, Boulevard Souvenirs moves to Marshall Avenue near Sun Studio in 2020.
2001: With earnings of $35 million, Elvis Presley ranks No. 1 on Forbes magazine’s inaugural list of the “highest paid deceased celebrities.” Elvis would remain at the top of the list until 2006, when he was overtaken by Kurt Cobain (due to that year’s sale of the Nirvana catalog). In the years since, Elvis has ranked as high as 1 and as low as 7.
2002: Elvis returns to the pop charts with a vengeance thanks to the Junkie XL remix of the 1968 recording “A Little Less Conversation.” The first Presley estate-authorized Elvis remix, the record becomes a No. 1 hit in 13 countries, including England and Japan.
2003: Announced Feb. 11, the Academy Award nominations recognize Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch” in the Best Animated Feature category. The movie showcases the antics of an Elvis-loving space alien and features eight Elvis songs on the soundtrack. Unfortunately for “Lilo,” the nominees include Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece “Spirited Away,” which collects the Oscar.
2004: Broadcasting live from Graceland, the Sirius XM satellite radio company launches its “Elvis Radio” channel. Sirius later would add artist-focused channels devoted to the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
2005: Presley receives the TV drama treatment again with “Elvis,” a well-regarded two-part CBS miniseries that earns Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe victory for his title-role performance. “Colonel” Tom Parker is played by Randy Quaid.
2006: On June 30, President George W. Bush becomes the first sitting U.S. President to visit Graceland when he, first lady Laura Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi take a private tour of the mansion, led by Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley. The reason for the visit: Koizumi — who shares Elvis’ Jan. 8 birthday — is a Presley superfan.
2007: Graceland launches its own “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest,” an Elvis Presley Enterprises-sanctioned Elvis Week event. This effectively ends the years-old tradition of independent and fan-organized contests showcasing “Elvis impersonators” (to use a term discouraged by actual practitioners of the art).
2008: “Eight Elvises,” an Andy Warhol silkscreen that reproduces eight images of Elvis in a Western gunfighter publicity pose for the 1960 movie “Flaming Star,” is sold at auction to a private owner for $100 million.
2009: Apparently collected during the much-publicized pompadour sacrifice mandated by Presley’s induction into the Army, a clump of Elvis’ hair sells for $15,000 during an auction of Elvis memorabilia in Chicago. Presley’s lost hair would continue to raise eyebrows, with one “Elvis Presley jar of hair with extensive documentation” (to quote the auction catalog) going for $72,500 in 2021.
2010: Inspired by the famous Dec. 4, 1956, gathering of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at Sun Studio, the Memphis-set jukebox musical “Million Dollar Quartet” debuts on April 11 on Broadway. The play receives three Tony Award nominations the next year.
2011: The Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau commissions Mississippi sculptor Bill Beckwith to create a statue based on a famous photograph of Elvis performing onstage in his birth hometown of Tupelo in 1956. Erected near the City Hall, the statue is dedicated during Elvis Week the following year.
2012: With record crowds in attendance for the 35h anniversary of Elvis’ death, Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley make their first-ever joint appearance at the Aug. 15 candlelight vigil.
2013: Paul McCartney visits Graceland on May 26, and tweets a picture of himself leaving a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave. He reportedly told onlookers the gesture was “so Elvis can play in heaven.”
2014: A Shelby County Historical Marker honoring Chips Moman’s American Recording Studio is unveiled on Aug. 13 near the corner of Chelsea and Danny Thomas, where the studio had been located. One side of the marker is dedicated to Elvis’ 1969 sessions at the studio, which many critics consider to be Presley’s best work since his Sun recordings.
2015: In an unusual move that testifies to Presley’s significance and popularity, the U.S. Postal Service dedicates a second stamp to Elvis, as part of a “Music Icon” series that also includes Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix, among others. The “Forever” stamp reproduces a black-and-white photo portrait of the singer along with Presley’s signature, in gold.
2016: An ambitious eight-episode CMT drama series, the 1950s-set “Sun Records,” is filmed in Memphis in the late spring and early summer. Drake Milligan is Elvis, but the focus is on the personal, musical and romantic struggles of Sam Phillips, played by Chad Michael Murray. The show debuts in February 2017, but is not renewed for a second season.
2017: Elvis Presley’s Memphis — a $45-million, 40-acre complex of restaurants, shops, performance venues and exhibit spaces showcasing Elvis’ jumpsuits, automobiles and more — opens on March 2, across the street from the Graceland mansion.
2018: Shot on location in Memphis and in and around the Presley mansion, the Hallmark Channel’s holiday romance “Christmas at Graceland,” starring country music artist Kellie Pickler, debuts Nov. 17. It is followed in 2019 by “Wedding at Graceland” and “Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays.”
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2019: Longtime Memphis disc jockey and Elvis associate and booster George Klein dies Feb. 5 at 83. Elvis and Klein had been close friends since they met as young teenagers at Humes High School, and Presley was Klein’s best man at the deejay’s 1970 wedding.
2020: Even Elvis is not immune to the coronavirus, as Graceland demonstrates when it shuts down for two months in the spring, as a pandemic precaution.
2021: The Mattel toy company issues a new “Elvis Presley Barbie,” which presents the iconic doll with “a slick pompadour ponytail and wearing an outfit inspired by (Elvis’) iconic ‘American Eagle’ jumpsuit.” The doll is at least the sixth Elvis-inspired Barbie (others include a “’68 Comeback” Barbie and a “Blue Hawaii” Barbie).
2022: Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” opens in theaters June 24. A highly stylized spectacle and a critical and box-office success, the film follows Elvis from his childhood to his death, with Austin Butler as the adult singer and Tom Hanks channeling some strange combination of Porky Pig and Mephistopheles for his portrayal of “Colonel” Tom Parker. Earlier in the month, Luhrmann, Butler, Hanks and others connected with the movie came to Memphis, where they joined Lisa Marie and Priscilla at a press junket and preview at Graceland.