The Night Elvis Died
Rockland, Maine — The Night Elvis Died
August 16, 1977 is a date I will remember for the rest of my life. If by chance I don’t, my friend Iris will remind me. Every year for over 30 years she has called me from Connecticut on that date.
Elvis was only 42 when he died at Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tennessee. That night Iris and I were on our yearly camping trip. That year we camped over at Sandy Shores. Some folks I knew were also camping there at the same time. We had a great time. One guy had a guitar and we sang songs around the campfire and toasted marshmallows. I believe there was also a Finnish sauna onsite that we availed ourselves of.
The weather report said, “chance of thundershowers” but we enjoyed a wonderful evening in spite of those warnings. When the campfire crew broke up, we crawled into Iris’ small nylon tent to go to sleep. It was a warm night so we stripped down to our undies and lay on top of our sleeping bags instead of inside them. We were all comfy and cozy as the peace and quiet of that lovely spot promised sweet dreams for the night.
However, that peace was not to last very long. For one thing, we’d staked out the small nylon tent mostly in sand. Not a good idea, but we had no choice in the matter. There were no wooden platforms at the campgrounds. You guessed it. It started to rain. Then the thunder came, then heavier rain. We switched on the flashlight and looked over our heads to see how much water we had on top of the tent. It grew and grew. Poking it off from the inside would only make the tent become a big sieve. So we watched and watched and the water grew and grew. The tent was very small, only big enough for us and two sleeping bags.
It was now pitch black so that you could hardly see your hand in front of you. The thunder and lightning continued and we stayed awake waiting for the inevitable to happen…the collapse of the tent on top of us, which it did at the height of all that thunder and lightning.
Remember, we were clad in the bare essentials, emphasis on the bare. My claustrophobic self panicked and I screamed. Iris being the more level headed of the two of us, quickly got us out from under, grabbing our sleeping bags as she went.
We ran to her Volkswagen bug dragging our slightly damp sleeping bags behind us and jumped in. Now we were dry, but not very comfortable. I have long legs and those bugs weren’t very big as you will remember. We managed to get into our bags and shake off the chill from the water. We were there for the night as we weren’t about to try to drive out of that dark place in the middle of that storm.
After we’d settled in as best as we could, we laughed at the whole ordeal and swore we’d always remember the “night the tent fell in.” We turned on the radio and immediately found a better reason to remember that night. The first thing we heard was Elvis music and I said, "Good, “Elvis can sing me to sleep.” Then the announcer came on with the terrible news that the idol of every teenager of my era was dead. It couldn’t be possible, I thought. He’s only 42 years old.
Needless to say, we listened to Elvis sing all night. They played everything from “Heartbreak Hotel” to “Hound Dog.” As I listened it was hard to believe that the young 11-year-old boy who was given a guitar that cost $12.95 for his birthday because his family couldn’t afford the bike he really wanted was gone. What he eventually did with that guitar changed rock and roll forever.
I didn’t even know who he was until I went to church camp one summer in the 50s and met a girl named Dot, who I am still friends with. She introduced me to Elvis. After he passed away, Dot got involved in his charitable organization down in Memphis. She visited Memphis and Graceland every August on the anniversary of his death for many years. She just went back again last fall. I wasn’t as big a fan as that, but I mourned him like every other person of my age on that day in 1977.
He had 18 number one songs on the Billboard charts from 1956-1977. Of those, my favorite was “Love Me Tender.” See if you can find your favorite among the rest of his number one hits: “Heartbreak Hotel;” “I Want you I Need you I Love you;” “Don’t be Cruel;” “Hound Dog;” “Too Much;” “All Shook Up;” “Teddy Bear;” “Jailhouse Rock;” “Don’t;” “Hard Headed Woman;” “A Big Hunk O’ Love;” “Stuck on You;” “It’s Now or Never;” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” “Surrender;” “Good Luck Charm;” “Suspicious Minds.”
I recently came across a video of an Elvis concert in Augusta on May 24, 1977, just a short two and a half months before he died. He didn’t look good. He was bloated and could barely open his eyes. His music that night, however, was just as good as always. I hope that those of you, who remember him in his early years when he was at his peak, will give him a thought or two on August 16th. There will never be another Elvis. Rest in peace, Elvis.
Thanks for listening.
SPECIAL NOTE: As you know I will be on vacation in Maine until August 18. This is the last blog I will post till August 23 when I return to Georgia. Thank you for waiting. See you at the picnic Aug. 10th at Sandy Beach Park in the South End.