Elvis’s Concluding Act: An Admirable Effort Despite Evident Unwellness

Elvis Presley passed away on August 16, 1977, at 42, following prolonged abuse of prescription medication and alcohol. His final appearance before the public took place in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 26, 1977, just under two months before his premature death. Two of his performances, one week prior to his last, were captured on film in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 19, and Rapid City, South Dakota, on June 21, for a television special.

“Elvis in Concert,” featuring scenes from these performances, aired six weeks post Presley’s passing. Following several reruns as per the contract, the Presley estate then restricted further showings, citing the special’s portrayal of Presley in a diminished state, leading to its unfortunate nickname as the “Fat Elvis” concert.

The final encore at the South Dakota concert, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” marks Presley’s last recorded act. Despite struggles with the spoken parts of the song, Presley’s vocal performance remained strong. Fans have observed in the comments that Presley often playfully altered lyrics and interludes, though his spoken words in this instance were notably more mumbled, indicating his deteriorating health. Experts have suggested that hospital care was needed at the time.

Reflecting on his 1973 divorce from Priscilla, Presley introduced his final song saying, “This one is called Are You Lonesome Tonight? I am, and I was.” The performance was emotive, and despite a clumsy spoken part which he shrugged off with the crowd, Presley regained his composure, delivering the lyrics effortlessly. Despite his physical condition, his vocal talent shone through. Notably, he was articulate and clear when presenting “Unchained Melody” at an earlier point in the show.

The performance was truly moving. A YouTube user, Mikey, remarked, “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 disparity between the clear introduction of “Unchained Melody” and the mumbled delivery in “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” suggests that significant health issues and exhaustion likely affected Presley’s performance during the spoken segment of the latter. Given it was the encore and considering Presley’s evident health challenges, which included a range of serious conditions, it’s noteworthy that he managed to perform 55 shows in the first half of 1977.

Jerry Schilling, a close associate of Presley, recounts in his memoir questioning Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, about allowing the filming given Presley’s visible ill health. Parker reportedly insisted it was Presley’s decision to proceed with the special as planned. My research for this piece left me in awe of the quality of Presley’s vocal performance in his final public concert. The king is gone. Long live Elvis!

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