It was on this day 40 years ago – 16 August 1977 – that Elvis Aron Presley, sometimes styled “The King Of Rock And Roll,” or, more modestly, simply “The King”, passed from this mortal plane, thereby engendering a wave of celebrity necromania unmatched by even the passing of the likes of Rudolph Valentino, James Dean, or Marilyn Monroe. There was something about Elvis that deeply touched the hearts and minds of his fans, and something about his legend that continues to attract new generations of fans to him.
Graceland is a major tourist magnet for the Memphis area, and millions have been to see Elvis’ grave there, yet there are those who nevertheless insist that “Elvis lives” and that he retired, incognito, to a simpler, private life. It’s an old tale. Czar Alexander I of Russia was said to have faked his death in 1825 to live his final years as a wandering “Starets,” a holy man. And many other notables have likewise been alleged to have done similar deceptions.
I have a rather unusual personal recollection of that pleasant afternoon in August of 1977. My Mom, my brother Rob, and I were in England, waiting for a train on the railway platform at Leamington Spa, after having seen “Henry VI Part II” at Stratford Upon Avon.
While we stood awaiting our down train, an elderly, white-haired woman in a long coat (which seemed a bit unseasonable for August, though it was by no means hot that afternoon) rushed up to my mother and implored, “Is it true??? Is it TRUE??? Is the king dead?????”
We all though the poor thing must have gone a bit off, England not having had a king in more than 25 years by that summer.
But then she added, “I cannot believe that Elvis has died! It simply cannot be true!”
Of course, the report was quickly confirmed. That was my first exposure to just how intense an impact “The King” could have upon his sundry and diverse fans.
As for belief or disbelief, I have always been affected by the author and critic John O’Hara’s response to the untimely death of George Gershwin: “They tell me George Gershwin died on July 11,(1937) but I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.”
But I may have a more “plausible” explanation for all those Elvis sightings these past many years. Elvis did indeed have a twin brother. An identical twin brother. Jesse Garon Presley is recorded as having died the very day he and Elvis were born, January 8, 1935.
Elvis’ family was, to say the least, of modest means, and record-keeping in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 was not what we might expect today. The family apparently never knew where the unfortunate Jesse was buried. In later his later years, Elvis hired a private detective to learn the whereabouts of his twin’s remains, apparently hoping to have them relocated to Memphis, or possibly to Graceland itself. But despite an exhaustive and fairly costly search, no trace of Jesse Presley was ever discovered.
My “plausible” solution for all those “Elvis sightings” is simply this: Jesse did NOT die on January 8, 1935, but records and such were mixed up. Thus, the body that is not in its grave is not that of Elvis, who indeed lies under marble at Graceland, rather it is Jesse Presley, long presumed dead, who actually walks this earth to this day, looking just like Elvis, but blithely unaware of his heritage. And it surely must be Jesse whom Elvis’ true believer keep spotting!
It makes perfect sense: we have no grave, no body, after all. So raise a toast to Elvis, “The King,” if you feel so moved today. Also raise a toast to his twin brother, Jesse Garon Presely, who preceded him in death before the world had ever heard of Elvis.
And keep an eye out for him, when you shop at your local convenience store or truck stop!
Flower Mound, Texas
Every time I think that I’m getting old, and gradually going to the grave,
something else happens.
— Elvis Presley