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Speech Incoherent, But His Singing Was Oh, My. 46 Years Later, It Still Hits

Elvis Presley, the legendary King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, passed away on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42, succumbing to complications from prolonged abuse of prescription medications and alcohol. His final public appearance occurred less than two months earlier, on June 26, 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Prior to this, two of his performances were recorded for television in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 19, and Rapid City, South Dakota, on June 21, forming the basis of the posthumously aired television special, “Elvis in Concert.”

The special, which initially aired six weeks after Presley’s death, featured footage from these final performances. Despite its initial broadcast success, subsequent reruns were limited at the behest of the Presley estate, concerned with the portrayal of Presley’s declining health and weight gain during the broadcasts. This led to the unfortunate nickname of the “Fat Elvis” concert among some critics and fans.

During the final encore of the South Dakota concert, Presley delivered a poignant rendition of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” marking his last recorded live performance. Despite his deteriorating health, particularly noticeable in his delivery of the spoken parts of the song, Presley’s vocal prowess remained evident. Fans and commentators have noted the contrast between his playful alterations of lyrics and the more mumbled delivery during this period, reflecting his declining physical condition.

Reflecting on his personal life, Presley introspectively introduced “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” by referencing his 1973 divorce from Priscilla, stating, “This one is called Are You Lonesome Tonight? I am, and I was.” Despite the challenges during the spoken parts, Presley maintained his professionalism and emotional depth, captivating the audience with his timeless voice. Earlier in the concert, he had delivered a clear and powerful rendition of “Unchained Melody,” showcasing his vocal versatility and enduring talent.

The emotional impact of Presley’s final performances continues to resonate with audiences. One YouTube commenter, Mikey, shared a personal reflection: “That final glance as he finishes the song…it’s incredibly moving. My father took us to Graceland four times during my childhood. I understand now, Dad. Such a remarkable voice. Such a big heart. The King, eternally.”

The contrast between the clarity of “Unchained Melody” and the struggles during “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” underscores the toll of Presley’s health issues on his performances. Despite his visible challenges, Presley managed an impressive schedule of 55 concerts in the first half of 1977, demonstrating his commitment to his craft and his enduring connection with his audience.

Jerry Schilling, a close friend and associate of Presley, recounted in his memoirs questioning Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, about the wisdom of filming given Presley’s declining health. Parker reportedly asserted that Presley was determined to proceed as planned. Reflecting on Presley’s final public appearance, it’s clear that his vocal performance, despite the circumstances, remains a testament to his enduring legacy and musical influence.

Elvis Presley’s impact on music and popular culture remains profound, with his voice and performances continuing to inspire generations of fans worldwide. His final concerts, captured in “Elvis in Concert,” stand as a poignant reminder of his talent, resilience, and the complexities of his later years.

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