Elvis Presley, who revolutionized American popular music with his earthy singing style and became a hero to two generations of rock 'n' roll fans, died yesterday in Memphis, Tenn. He was 42.I was working for a graphics art shop in Santa Ana that day in 1977 and remember hearing the news on the radio. I had never seen Elvis in concert, but back in '73 or '74 saw Elvis at a gospel concert in Long Beach. He wasn't performing, but had stopped by the concert to see his backup group, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, perform. He sat backstage and at one point was introduced to the crowd and walked out and took a bow.
Shelby County Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco said last night an autopsy indicated Presley died of "cardiac arrhythmia," which he described as a "severely irregular heartbeat" and "just another name for a form of heart attack." He said the three-hour autopsy uncovered no sign of any other diseases -- though Presley had in recent years been treated at Baptist Memorial Hospital for hypertension, pneumonia and an enlarged colon -- and there was no sign of any drug abuse.
Presley’s body was discovered at 2:30 p.m. Memphis time by his road manager, Jerry Esposito, in a bathroom in the singer’s multimillion-dollar Graceland Mansion. He was rushed to the Baptist Memorial, where he was met by his personal physician, Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, and pronounced dead.
Dr. Willis Madrey, a specialist in liver disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said yesterday that two years ago Presley’s doctors sent him a sample of Presley’s liver for analysis. "It showed no significant abnormalities." Madrey said, "nothing of any help at all in evaluation."
"I had understood he was having some gastrointestinal problems his doctors were trying to evaluate," Madrey said. But "well over a year ago," Madrey added, he saw one of Presley’s doctors and was told "he seemed fine" and "the only problem he had medically was obesity."
Ginger Alden reportedly Presley’s fiancee and members of his staff were all at the mansion yesterday at the time the singer was found unconscious, Nichopoulos said.
His death at age 42 seemed shocking at the time, but later that year when his final televised concert was broadcast it was clear that he was a very sick man. Bloated and overweight he looked like a caricature of the performer we'd known for so many years. I've often wondered what a 77-year old Elvis would have been like today. Still touring? Maybe.
Although my connection to Elvis is tenuous at best, I can claim a mutual friend. Back in 1998 a gospel music legend, James Blackwood of the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, attended a concert of mine and we went out to dinner afterwards. Here's a photo from that night with a younger me, James, and the guys in my group:
Hard to believe 34 years have gone by....