Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Love Him Tender

August 10, 2003

You might as well sit down and get into it. This is that annual week when countless people and many radio stations indulge themselves in that strange pop culture phenomenon of mass nostalgia over a dead Mississippi-truck-driver-turned-singer. That's Elvis, of course, the rags-to-riches King, the most parodied, biggest-selling, most popular singing icon of the last century. He died in his fabled Graceland mansion 26 years ago in the muggy Memphis darkness after a visit to the dentist at midnight, another price of fame.

Every famous person eventually dies and we witness brief outbreaks of nostalgia over their work and lives then. Anniversaries too are times for families and societies to pause and remember someone or something -- Nov. 22, JFK's death (this will be the 40th anniversary), and Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day. June 6, 2004, will be the 60th anniversary of D-day, so we'll relive that historic undertaking again. Come next July, you'll probably see Bob Hope road movie clips again. And Marilyn Monroe photos on all Aug. 5ths.

Every Aug. 16, even if you're not driving across America confined to one radio station for 100 miles, you'll hear every one of Elvis' No. 1 hits (18, from "Heartbreak Hotel" in 1956 to "Suspicious Minds" in 1969), the Top 10 ones (40) and the Top 40 ones (114). Movie channels will surely serve up his 31 feature films. And the Biography Channel must annually enshrine the impoverished birth in Tupelo, the stillborn twin brother, a childhood full of Memphis music, the rise of the scandalously gyrating rock 'n' roller, the Army haircut, those mobs of young women screaming their adoration, the billion records sold, the movies and sold-out concerts, the unseemly weight gain and the onstage mental lapses due to drugs.

Less documented were his countless acts of often spontaneous charity, including a benefit that revived the drive for a battleship Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor.

There's a peculiar pathos to watching icons grow up, succeed, stumble, fade. Their public sagas, like life, can be sad, happy, both. Worshipping or watching them is curiously entertaining, instructive and a welcome diversion from tending to our own stumbles closer to home. We feel ownership of their lives too, even using just their first names.

Elvis would be 68 today. He wouldn't jump onto the stage; the curtain would rise. There's the King. Maybe his daughter singing, too. His hip gyrations would be slower, possibly artificial. The black hair would remain as black as Wayne Newton's, but the obesity could be gone, out of fear of diabetes. Another wife might be en route, in or out. Endorsement possibilities could abound -- insurance, vitamins, Viagra.

Elvis would be stooped some. The weight of fame is worse today. "The image is one thing and the human being is another," he once said. "It's very hard to live up to an image."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|