Elvis History – Part Three
Box Office Dynamite – Elvis in the 1970s
The Houston Astrodome
Elvis’ first live performances (after Las Vegas) took place at the Houston Astrodome between February 27 and March 1, 1970. With huge audiences of between 17,000 and over 43,000 in one performance, he was seen by over 200,000 people in six shows.
Elvis: That’s The Way It Is
During his third Las Vegas engagement in the summer of 1970, MGM recorded the documentary movie Elvis – That’s The Way It Is. The film features Elvis in rehearsal in Los Angeles and performing in Las Vegas and has become a valuable and exciting document of Elvis’ on stage performances. The original That’s The Way It Is also featured interviews and footage of fans, including British and European fans attending an Elvis convention in Luxemburg. In 2000, the movie was re-released in cinemas to great critical acclaim, replacing the dated fan club footage and some of the comments from fans with new unseen concert performances.
The Gold Belt
In September 1970 as he closed his Las Vegas engagement, the hotel presented Elvis with a gold belt in recognition of his record-breaking box office achievements in the city. Elvis proudly wore this belt on and off stage for many years.
On the Road
From September 9, 1970, Elvis went back on tour across the USA opening at the Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona, before going onto St Louis, Detroit, Miami, Tampa, and Mobile Alabama. His concerts are a record-breaking success and mark the beginning of a series of tours, 29 in total, which resulted in over 1100 live performances.
Elvis Meets the President
In December 1970, Elvis took it upon himself to visit President Nixon. He didn’t discuss any of his plans with other members of his entourage, but flew unaccompanied to Los Angeles where he met up with his friend Jerry Schilling. While on board a connecting flight to Washington, Elvis wrote a letter on American Airlines stationery to President Nixon. Elvis stated that he wanted to help Nixon to fight an escalating problem with illegal drugs flooding the USA, but on his own agenda – and as a keen collector of police badges – Elvis wanted his own federal narcotics badge.
Joined in Washington by Memphis Mafia member Sonny West, Elvis and Jerry Schilling arrived at the Whitehouse on December 21st, for an appointment with the president.
Meeting in the Oval Room, Elvis and the President exchanged family photographs and, although he was not permitted a Federal Narcotics Badge, he was honoured with the title of Special Assistant. Jerry Schilling and Sonny West were presented with tie clips bearing the Presidential seal, but Elvis’ gift to Nixon – a chrome plated Colt 45 – was not permitted in the Oval Room for obvious security reasons.
The Jaycees Award
On January 16, 1971 in a Memphis ceremony, the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce named Elvis ‘One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation.’ This presented Elvis with one of the proudest moments in his career, evident in his acceptance speech:
‘When I was a child ladies and gentlemen I was a dreamer. I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream I have ever dreamed has come true a thousand times…’
Published in October 1971, Elvis: A Biography by Jerry Hopkins became the first official biography on the star.
In late 1971 / early 1972 Elvis and Priscilla separated and she moved out of their Graceland home taking Lisa Marie with her. Their divorce – for irreconcilable differences – was granted on October 9th 1973. Elvis was already dating former beauty queen Linda Thompson, although he remained close friends with Priscilla and the pair walk out of the courthouse holding hands following the divorce proceedings.
Elvis: On Tour
At the end of March 1972, MGM began filming Elvis in the studio then followed his concert performances throughout April for a second documentary Elvis On Tour. Among the classic concert performances, Elvis On Tour also features RCA rehearsal footage, backstage antics between Elvis and his buddies and interviews with ardent fans and promoters throughout the tour. The film later received the Golden Globe Award for best documentary of 1972.
Madison Square Garden
After a press conference at the New York Hilton on June 9, 1972 Elvis performed four sell-out shows at Madison Square Garden, the first entertainer to achieve such a feat. Part of the earlier press conference was filmed for Elvis On Tour and just eight days after his last show RCA release the album Elvis As Recorded At Madison Square Garden.
Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite
During a press conference at the Las Vegas Hilton in September 1972, plans were announced for Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii – Via Satellite, the first live show to be broadcast by satellite around the world.
Elvis is back at his peak in the New Year, when he arrives in Honolulu for the concert. A dress rehearsal was filmed on January 12, then the show was broadcast live at 12:30am Hawaiian time on January 14, 1973. The countries watching the show via Globecam included Australia, South Korea, Japan, South Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines where it was viewed by a record 91% of the population. The show was later broadcast across Europe and is shown in the United States on April 4th on NBC where it attracted 51% of the television audience. A record-breaking one to 1.5 billion people saw the broadcast in over 40 countries
When the album Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite was subsequently released it became the first quadraphonic album to reach number one.
In March 1973, Elvis and the Colonel sold the rights on Elvis’ entire recording catalogue to RCA for $5.4 million
Following Elvis’ death an investigation into the Colonels affairs was ordered during court hearings called by Priscilla Presley to protect her daughter’s interests. The report cited that Parker and RCA were guilty of collaboration, conspiracy and fraud and all three parties sued one another at the time.
In March 1971, Elvis was diagnosed with iritis and secondary glaucoma, but by 1973 his health problems, escalated by a growing dependency on prescribed medicines, became life threatening when he was admitted to hospital suffering from recurring pneumonia and pleurisy, an enlarged colon and hepatitis during October. Many state that it was the break up of his marriage that started Elvis’ downward slide, but evidence of his drug taking certainly existed in the sixties, and some sources even state that it may have started back in the fifties. Elvis was hospitalised again in January 1975 and had to close his Vegas engagement during the summer and frequently returned to the Baptist Memorial in the last few months leading to his death.
A Star Is Born
During Elvis’ engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton in March 1975, he was approached by Barbara Streisand who wanted to remake the classic movie A Star Is Born starring Elvis as the main lead. Although Elvis was excited by the idea, he doesn’t accept the role.
Some say the Colonel convinced him that the role of depressed rock star John Norman would only damage his career, while Elvis had his own insecurities about returning to the movie screen.
Many speculate that this is the challenge that Elvis needed to kick-start his career after five years on the road. The role eventually went to Kris Kristofferson and Elvis continued with his gruelling tour schedule.
Elvis Presley Airways
In April 1975, Elvis purchased a Convair 880 for $250,000, and – after spending $800,000 customising the aircraft – took to the skies in November aboard the Lisa Marie, referred to as the pride of Presley Airways. Also known as the flying Graceland, the Lisa Marie included a private bedroom, bathroom with gold washbasins, a conference room and lounge.
Elvis also purchased a smaller Lockheed Jetstar, which was nicknamed Hound Dog Two. Both of these airplanes were used for Elvis’ tours – Elvis would travel in the Lisa Marie while Hound Dog Two was often used for the advance team.
In 1976, Elvis and Linda Thompson separated. The pair had been together since 1972 and Linda was fondly regarded by Elvis’ friends and family as a steady influence in Elvis’ life – which took another downward slide after their relationship ended.
In November 1976, Elvis began dating twenty-one year old Ginger Alden who had recently been named runner up Miss USA. This new relationship inspired Elvis to take a few holidays including trips to Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Hawaii.
Elvis in Concert
In June 1977, CBS began filming Elvis’ performances for the documentary Elvis In Concert. With less than two months to live, Elvis looked in poor health and although he gave a strong vocal performance, the documentary is upsetting to many fans and his estate prefer to present Elvis at his peak, rather than promote this footage.
The Last Concerts
Elvis’ last Las Vegas engagement took place between December 2 – 12, 1976 then six gruelling tours followed before Elvis gave his last performance on June 26, 1977 in the Indianapolis Market Square Arena.
The Last Farewell
In the early hours of August 16, 1977 Elvis, Ginger, Billy Smith and his wife Jo played racquetball on a court built within the grounds of Graceland, then played several songs on the piano, most notably Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain. Elvis had returned from the dentist the previous evening and was taking tablets prescribed by the dentist along with a mixture of medicines for insomnia and a variety of ailments, although when he retired to bed he still had problems sleeping and told Ginger he was going into the bathroom to read. When she awoke in the early afternoon, Ginger discovered Elvis’ body in the bathroom and called for assistance, although all resuscitation attempts failed. Elvis was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital and although the doctors fought to save his life, it was far too late and at 3.30pm Elvis Presley was pronounced dead at the age of 42.