Read Variety’s 1977 Coverage of Elvis Presley’s Death

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When Elvis Presley died August 16, 1977, at age 42, fans around the world went into a collective state of shock. According to Variety, he lay in state for three and a half hours on Aug. 17 at Graceland and a crowd estimated at 15,000 stood in 90-degree heat waiting to view the body. Police and fire department first-aid stations were set up to revive many who fainted during the wait. On the following morning, a hit-and-run driver killed two teenage girls and injured a third as they waited in line; the driver was later apprehended.

The Variety obituary of Elvis Presley, which ran a day after his death, included a tribute from RCA Records president Louis Couttolenc. The exec said, “Elvis Presley was the greatest legend of the modern entertainment world. He ushered in the rock music era, forever changing the taste of the music-loving public.”

On Thursday, Aug. 18, Presley was buried at Forest Hills Cemetery, where Tom Jones delivered the eulogy. Among those in attendance were Ann-Margret, John Wayne, Burt Reynolds, and George Hamilton.

In the months after his death, Variety continued to carry multiple stories about the singer-actor.

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Three months after the burial, the bodies of Presley and his mom Gladys Smith Presley were transferred to Graceland. Variety reported, “Despite a driving rain in the Memphis area last weekend, there were more than 1,000 persons standing in line awaiting the chance to walk through Graceland mansion and view the new burial site.”

From his first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” in January 1956, Presley had a big impact on the music industry; Variety estimated that he personally would earn $1 million in that first year, which was a huge amount back then. That included income from record sales as well as 40 concert appearances.

On Nov. 30, 1977, the Shelby County Probate Court revealed the inventory of his estate, which was valued in excess of $3 million (about $12 million in today’s dollars). However, his disk royalties had not yet been evaluated and, when factored in, “It’s understood that the valuation of Presley’s entire estate would top $10 million,” said Variety.

When RCA Records reported its annual earnings, in January 1978, the company hit a record high, “with the demand for Elvis Presley disks after his death pushing sales into the stratosphere.” However, the story didn’t include hard figures for The King’s record sales.

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In November, three months after his death, Variety estimated 70 Presley impersonators were working in nightclubs and concert venues. By December, that estimate increased to 80-100 in the U.S. alone.

In December 1977, the review of  “Alan — a Tribute to Elvis” at the Magic Mountain amusement park, noted that this was third Elvis tribute to play Los Angeles within two weeks. Topliner Alan Meyer “has crowds screaming through the hour-plus set,” wrote Todd Everett, who said this was proof of Presley’s impact on ’50s culture: “If a carbon can generate the kind of hysteria that Alan receives, 20 years after the real thing, Presley’s original effect must have been simply devastating.”

When Presley was alive, he was known for personal excesses in his cars, clothes, food (fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches) and Graceland home (including four TV sets in his bedroom, plus a wildly decorated man cave called “The Jungle Room”).

He was also famous for his generosity. During his 21-year reign, the media was filled with tales of The King spontaneously giving away cars and paying hospital bills for total strangers. Variety’s Aug. 17 obit said, “Never forgetting his down-home roots and solidly religious upbringing, Presley gave extensively to charities.” Among the big handouts cited was a $1 million donation to the Motion Picture & TV Fund in 1965. His daughter Lisa Marie continues that tradition with the Presley Charitable Foundation, begun in 2007.

Read Daily Variety‘s coverage from August 17, 1977 below:

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    1. Matt says:

      Tim, thank you for this article. It’s a great reminder of just how important and influential Elvis was to not only music but modern culture as well. Today there are great performers and great advancements in recording, but somehow it seems like they are all just standing on Elvis’ shoulders. There has been nothing as original and new as Elvis since 1953 when he stepped into Sun Studio and made his first recording.
      I noticed the images of the original 1977 Variety obit are out of order (page 18 comes before 17).
      Thanks again for the great article.

      • timgray2013 says:

        Thanks for the thanks. Yes, he was a terrific singer, but he was certainly more than that. Thanks for writing, Tim

    2. Bill B. says:

      No offense to Presley, but I still gotta say I do miss Variety of the 60’s and 70’s and those awesome bound green year end editions with seemingly endless polls, charts, lists, etc. in film, theater & television. I had many years of those collected, but someone threw them away a number of years ago. I’d give a lot to get them back. Variety back then was an inspiration to me. It was my bible & I raced to get it weekly for a then 25 cents! I eventually subscribed as my income grew, got into the entertainment world for a dozen years and then received it free but it slowly evolved into a much different publication and on a personal level, I eventually drifted away. I clearly remember missing one publication of the weekly edition and only one! It bugged me for a long time, though I recovered. lol. This

      • timgray2013 says:

        Hi. Thanks for the warm words about Variety. I don’t know if you’re interested, but Variety has digitized all issues going back to 1906, and including all the Daily Variety issues of the 60s and 70s. But the bound year-end volumes are not online. They haven’t been digitized yet. If you’re interested, it costs to subscribe and I THINK you can get a year’s subscription to access, or a shorter term if you want.
        https://varietyultimate.com/layout/advancedSearch
        At any rate, thanks for reading and for taking the time to write. (And I’m glad you’ve recovered!) Tim Gray

    3. Very good article, but to me, Elvis Presley, he is the man whose more extraordinary contributions were made in areas where no one, and I mean no one, would have expected him to be a prime mover, namely i) health care, where his advocacy in the fight against polio, by taking the third, still untested version of Dr. Jonathan Salk’s vaccine, on October 28, 1956, and in front of the world’s press, led to the exponential increase in the immunization level of all americans from 0.6 to 80%,in a six month period ii) his many interventions to help Danny Thomas towards realizing his dream to construct St Jude’s Hospital, most notably on both June 28, 1957 ( when he attracted 14,000 donors to a stadium in Memphis, the donors coming from MS, TN and AR) and on February 14, 1964 ( when he donated FDR’ former Presidential Yatch, the USS Potomac, to St Jude’s so that it could be auctioned for a profit, which was the case, in November of that same year). The Yatch, incidentally, after several owners, has been fully restored and even makes daily trips, with tourists, to the Golden Gate Bridge in SF and back to Oakland, where it is currently docked. iii) his being the largest individual contributor towards the building of the USS Arizona Memorial, which remans today, since 1963, the largest taxpayer in the state of Hawaii with over 67 million visitors iv) or his January 6, 1957 appeal for emergency aid to some 250,000 Hungarian refugees fleeing the double invasion of their country (of 24, and 31st October 1956), by the then Soviet Union. Elvis fans watching that telecast, his third and last on the Sullivan Show, contributed with US$6 million, over an 11 month period. That is the equivalent of US$49.5 million in 2017 dollars. It was because of these funds, handled by the International Red Cross in Geneva, and with the help of the US Army, that these quarter of a million people settled in Vienna and London, for life. The unvarnished truth is that these advocacy actions, all undertaken before he reached the age of 30, are ALBEIT PARTLY, why Elvis is ELVIS…

      • timgray2013 says:

        Thanks for reading the article and for adding these comments. These are great facts about Elvis, and an important reminder that he was much more than a singer/entertainer. And it’s a reminder that one person CAN make a huge difference. Thanks again. Tim Gray

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