On This Day: Music mourns as Elvis Presley dies aged 42

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Elvis Presley death anniversary August 16 1977
Elvis Presley death anniversary August 16 1977

Millions of fans around the world were left in mourning on this day in music history following the sudden death of Elvis Presley.

The “King of Rock n’ Roll” was found unconscious in the bathroom of his Memphis home, Graceland, aged 42, by his fiancée, Ginger Alden on August 16, 1977.  

The singer’s road manager and longtime friend, Joe Esposito, tried to resuscitate him, before Presley was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm.

At the time, hospital officials reported the star died of “respiratory distress.” Following the news of his death, thousands of fans flocked to Graceland to pay tribute to the man who changed the course of music history.

Although his death was attributed to cardiac arrest on his death certificate, rumours immediately began swirling of a possible drug overdose. Presley was known to have developed a dependency on opiates and prescription drugs, including sleeping pills and Valium.

Police estimated that 50,000 - 100,000 people turned out at Graceland to pay their respects the day after Elvis died. (PA)
Police estimated that 50,000 - 100,000 people turned out at Graceland to pay their respects the day after Elvis died. (PA)
Elvis Presley performing in New York in 1956. (Getty)
Elvis Presley performing in New York in 1956. (Getty)

While toxicology reports revealed a high level of drugs in the star’s system, the official statement from Tennessee’s chief medical examiner, Jerry Francisco, was that they were “not a contributing factor” to Presley’s death.

Aspects of Presley’s final years have become fodder for the public, particularly his waning career and altered appearance. In the ‘70s, the heavier set Presley was a stark contrast to the fit and youthful young man who burst onto the music scene in 1954. 

Despite having not had a number one single in the U.S. since “Suspicious Minds” in 1969, those closest to Presley say the star was preparing to tour again and even had plans to make more music and movies.

A private funeral was held on August 18, 1977 in the living room of Graceland before Presley was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, next to his mother, Gladys. 

On the morning of his funeral, two female fans who had gathered on Elvis Presley Boulevard, Alice Hovatar and Juanita Johnson, were killed when a vehicle purposely drove into the gathered crowd.

Elvis Presley with fiancee Ginger Alden
Elvis Presley with fiancee Ginger Alden
Visitors queue to enter the Graceland mansion of Elvis Presley on August 12, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Getty)
Visitors queue to enter the Graceland mansion of Elvis Presley on August 12, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Getty)

Presley and his mother’s remains were exhumed and relocated to Graceland on Oct. 3, 1977 at the request of his father, Vernon. The Meditation Garden at Graceland now serves as the final resting place for the Presley family, including Vernon who died in 1979.

Since his death, Presley’s Graceland estate estimates the singer has sold more than one billion records worldwide, with 149 singles songs appearing on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Pop Chart.

In 2018, Legacy Recordings, a division of Sony Music Entertainment and RCA announced that Presley’s U.S album sales alone surpassed 146.5 million, making him the third most awarded artist in the history of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) behind The Beatles and Garth Brooks.

Presley’s catalogue of music remains lucrative even after his death. In 2020, Presley earned an estimated $23 million, even though COVID impacted travel to Graceland, which typically accounts for $10 million of the star’s annual posthumous income.

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