Elvis became the biggest star in the world in the 1950s, and continued topping charts and making movies into the 1960s. His voice and image remain as instantly recognisable now as then. The anniversary of his death on August 16, 1977, aged just 42, is marked every year by fans at a series of events at Graceland. There has only ever been one King. Elvis would never know that his greatest fear, which tormented while he was alive, would never come to pass.
Elvis was so charming and charismatic in public, few ever realised his inner struggles. Priscilla later said: “He didn’t express a whole lot. He didn’t wanna show you how insecure he was.”
In his final months, though, his fears were growing. He told his backing singer and short-lived girlfriend, Kathy Westmoreland, that he had “never done anything lasting.”
Priscilla added: “I remember Elvis saying that he didn’t really know if he gave up singing, if he did want to retire, he felt that people would forget him.”
What was so extraordinary was, at the time, most people would have agreed with him.
After being such an enormous chart-topping star, Elvis had had his last Top Ten US album in 1965 and none of his studio releases in the 1970s dented the Top 50.
Speaking of his doubts and fears in the final months, Priscilla said: “Shows you where he was. It shows you where he emotionally was and … where in his career he thought he was.”
The tragedy is that Elvis could not see how extraordinarily successful he still was. He may have no longer been the teen idol but the versatile singer had great success with gospel and Christmas albums, which may have charted lower but continued to sell in huge numbers across a longer period of time.
His 1971 Christmas album has sold three million copies and even one of his last film soundtracks, for Frankie and Johnny, sold a million copies.
Following on from successful residencies in Las Vegas, The King toured heavily through the 1970s. His 1972 Madison Square Gardens live album sold three million copies. The following year, Elvis’ Aloha From Hawaii concert was a huge hit, televised and broadcast by satellite. The live album shifted a whopping five million copies.
Yet, Elvis continued to fear that he was no longer relevant and that he would be quickly forgotten.
Priscilla, like everyone who knew and loved Elvis, regrets that he never knew just how great his legacy was while he lived – and what it would become after he died.
Speaking of his enduring worldwide popularity and the huge crowds who continue to make the pilgrimage every single day to Graceland, she admitted she wished she could say to him: “‘Oh my gosh, you were wrong. Look at this! Look what you do every year. Look who you bring.’ It brings a smile to my face, because … if he only knew.”