My Apology to Elvis…


It was a sweltering summer, that summer. Heat that lays heavy on your skin and in your lungs.

It was late afternoon, if I remember right. I was home, wearing my favorite green and white striped top and short outfit. I was a lanky thirteen-year-old who hadn’t yet grown into her body. My long chestnut hair still possessed the natural wavy curls I’d had since I was a toddler.

Maybe it was a movie or a daytime show I was watching. It’s all a blur now, but what I do remember is the channel cut in for breaking news…

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock & Roll, dead, at 42

I remember leaving my chair and inching up to the TV screen, thinking that to get closer, I’d know more, digest more, maybe feel less shock, bolster my psyche for the sorrow and sadness yet to come, and maybe sitting close I could channel my thoughts to E, and ask why?

I was one human being among millions around the world who stopped what they were doing that day to sit, glued to those flickering images, to search for a why.

NBC News

Mobile cameras and helicopters filmed the growing crowd in front of the musical gates at Graceland. People crying — women, men, and even little children, who never knew E, but who saw their sorrowful parents and sensed fear. Some fainted, others gazed up into the heavens, exclaiming they could see Elvis’s face in a cloud smiling down on them. Traffic was a snarled mess along Elvis Presley Boulevard. My mind, all those many, many miles away, was a snarl, too.

But by ’77, hadn’t we all moved on from Elvis?

Weren’t kids nowadays glued to the big hair rock bands, the mega concert attractions with hard rock ’n’ rollers never as handsome, never as slick, never a southern gentleman polite? Didn’t we have bigger concerns than to keep up with an aging icon, who, like any everlasting pillar in society, had been on our TV and theater screens and concert stages since our birth? Who now was growing old before his time, gaining weight and quietly giving up?

Pillars are never supposed to collapse like so much sand and simply blow away. But Elvis did, right before my eyes, and I didn’t even hear his cry for help.

Times had changed. This was the ’70s, after all…

America lost the Vietnam War. Shunned and ridiculed vets were dying of drug and alcohol abuse, and no one cared.
JFK, MLK and RFK were, by now, long past memories.
There was inflation, and gasoline lines and crime waves, and a peanut farmer in the White House. Canada reveled in its own Trudeaumania. And the scene to be seen was now at Studio 54 with the Stones, not at Graceland with E.

Sure, there would be an Elvis article printed here or there in some magazine that needed celebrity filler. Or an unusual Elvis concert that would make the news.

 This time, the mammoth Houston Astrodome. Elvis flew over the site. “Oh, my boy, oh my, boy,” Elvis would say, shaking his lowered head, the man still amazed that after all the years of stratospheric success, a poor boy from Tupelo could fill such a place.

After his umpteenth show at the International in Vegas, rock band members, now icons in their own right, would go backstage to figuratively kiss the ring of the King, genuinely thank the man who had started it all. Elvis would feed off of their youth and vitality and talent. Someday, E would tour like them, he’d tell Jerry Schilling. Someday.

Of course, someday never came. Colonel Tom Parker put paid to that. Even a beloved work horse can only get up so many times after constantly being whipped down.

I just plain didn’t know you were that work horse, E. None of us did.

Had I known, I would have paid more attention, written you a letter in my childish 13-year-old hand. I would have said, “Hang in there, Mr. P. Get help. Your life has only begun!” I’d tell you to wait, that you’d finally break free of Parker’s financial chains and fly like a bird on the wing and see and do and sing the world over. At 42, this was not the time to give up. We still needed you here.

Had we known, we could have all written letters to E.

By 1977, there were cracks in the Elvis facade, of course. The Tell-All penned by Sonny and Red West, and Dave Hebler, published only 15 days before his death, “Elvis What Happened?” But even before the book, there were whispers of drug abuse and poor health. E would check into a Memphis hospital, reporters said, for rest.

Why didn’t we ask, “Who needs to rest in their early 40s?”

How come we, his admirers, turned a blind eye to all the clues? The bloated body, the flaccid face, the sickly pale skin, and the uncontrollable sweat. Elvis had been there for us. Why were we not there for him? After all the years, why could we not see what was right in front of our eyes?

The hard truth: We didn’t care enough, did we, E? We didn’t love you enough.

We saw the train wreck coming, and not once did we yell out for you to jump. You kept singing the songs, we kept cheering you on, and the money train kept rolling in for everyone but you.

Health issues, who cares? Doesn’t every famous entertainer have their own Dr. Feel Good? You’d lose the weight again, right? You’d have a “Comeback after the Comeback” special. And like always, we’d be there to bathe in your glory, never thinking for one sec that maybe this time you needed to bathe in ours.

I am sorry, E. God damn, am I so sorry.

I saw you as that pillar in my life that would never crumble, never collapse. I plain forgot you were human, a mere mortal, just like me, with a heart and soul and feelings that could be irrevocably hurt and a body that could break.

I’m sorry I didn’t stand up, and yell to the world, “E’s hurt. E’s dying. Somebody help!”

In ’77, I’m a kid you don’t even know exists who had to leave her own father less than a year before, because he was addicted to alcohol. I was grieving then for my lost father, like Lisa Marie soon would for you. Maybe I had no room in my young heart for one more addicted father, and I plain shut you out.

But the fact remains that I let you down. We all did. What’s worse: We let others let you down. I was one of millions who saw and felt and was saddened by your disintegration, and chose to stay mum, for our addiction was you. I’m sorry for enjoying you as I did, with not one thought to repay you for your undying kindness.

I am sorry you were alone when you took your last breath, and I felt not one hair on my head move from your dying whisper.

In all these 45 years, I and millions of your fans have grown up, and although we are now much older than you were the day you died, a part of our souls stopped growing on that sweltering August day, for we still wear out your records and replay your aging concert films, you standing there, forever young, forever laughing with those smiling eyes, as our own sight now grows dim.

We have not forgotten you, Elvis, or freed ourselves from the hurt we felt that horrid summer’s day. The guilt we carry from not saving you will remain our cross to bear until it’s our time to join you in heaven.

You are long blown off this mortal coil, we know. Your past, its joys and sorrows, long since gone. Your moment on earth now but a whispered memory. But we who knew and loved you in your time, our time, carry your earthly burden, so that you may fly…