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.
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.
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: