It's been 32 years since a cocky Elvis Presley first stepped into the recording studios in Memphis and paid $3 to record an old Inkspots tune called "My Happiness," a birthday gift for his mother. And it's been eight years since he was found dead--gray-haired and weighing 255 pounds--crumpled in front of the commode, clutching a copy of "The Face of Jesus" in his hand.
During his lifetime, and particularly since his death, just about everything that could have been said about him seems to have been said. But precious little is known about Elvis the man. His essence continues to remain a mystery.
He would have been 50 Tuesday. No doubt the current Presley media blitz will include more "inside-dope" accounts.
But where we can learn about Elvis is in the lives of the people he's affected, among them the people on these pages. They come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds--but all were deeply affected by Elvis.
Gay McRae: The fanatic Gay McRae, 51, is a self-described Elvis fanatic. Born in Smithville, Miss., she has been a resident of Memphis since age 7. McRae has housed countless fans who've made the pilgrimage to Graceland, located only a few miles from her home. Her husband Stanley, an elevator company employee, recently put the finishing touches on Gay's "Elvis House," a building that houses her collection of memorabilia.
"The first time I saw Elvis was in 1955. I was 21 an' he was 19. I was with my husband and my 13-month-old daughter Glenda Gay at the grand opening of this new shopping center in Memphis. There was this big commotion going on and we went over to see what it was. Well, there was Elvis and this little band on the back of a flatbed truck. He was doin' "That's Allright Mama," as we walked up. I didn't much care for the song, but I just thought he was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen. I just stood there staring at him. He had the prettiest eyes--they were a deep, dark blue. An' I recall thinkin', gosh, there must be something wrong with him, so I walked all around that truck tryin' t'find something, but I couldn't. He was just beautiful. From that time on I was smitten. I mean he totally wiped me out.
"Another time I'll never forget is July 8, 1960. Me an' my two cousins were outside the gates at Graceland, an' all of a sudden Elvis came drivin' in. Then as Uncle Travis (Presley's uncle) was closing the gates this little girl about 14 or so--she had on one a them little leg braces, y'know?--an' it got caught in the gate an' she got knocked flat down. We all started screamin' an Uncle Travis came runnin' over and picked her up--I'm sure he could see lawsuit written 'bout 10 feet high--then he called up to the house. An' I told my cousins, 'She's gonna get to meet Elvis now. You'll see.' An' sure enough, Uncle Travis put her on the golf cart and drove her up to the house. And when she got there Elvis came out. . . . He had a yachting cap on. An' he gave that little girl a 45 record and an album and autographed them both! An' she was cryin' she was so happy, an' I'll never forget it. . . . This other girl standin' next to us says, 'Oh Lordy, I wish I was crippled.'
"In 1961 I saw Elvis do a benefit show at the Ellis Auditorium. It was the first time he'd performed in Memphis since 1957. There was two shows--one at 2 in the afternoon an' one at 8. I went with my girlfriend Charlotte Roberts an' we bought the tickets for $3. Can you imagine?! Oh yeah, it was somethin'--Boots Randolph, Floyd Cramer an' Brother Dave Gardner was all on the bill. An' I remember Charlotte, who had this very jealous husband, said, 'If Melvin finds out I came here he'll kill me.' She's dead now, bless her heart. Anyway, we was sittin' there an' sayin' how we hoped these dumb teen-agers didn't start screamin' an' actin' like a buncha idiots so we could hear Elvis. An' then he came out. . . . He was wearin' a plain black suit . . . an' all of a sudden we were both yellin' our fool heads off!
"Yeah, I've got a lot of great memories. My little brother was a Baptist preacher and every Sunday morning before he went to preach he used to play Elvis' 'How Great Thou Art' album. My daddy loved him too. After Elvis died whenever they'd show one of his movies on TV daddy'd get tears in his eyes. See, we didn't just like Elvis . . . we loved him. My whole family did. An' when he died we felt like we'd lost a member of our own family. There'll always be a hole there. I could just start thinkin' about Elvis bein' gone right now and get real shook up all over again."