Well, artistically, anyway. A new show about the last days of Elvis is opening off-Broadway, the product of a televison producer obsessed with Presley since childhood.
“In third grade, fourth grade when we had to write reports about a person, it was always Elvis,” says Brooklynite Mark Macias. “I watched all his movies, books, documentaries as I got older. But I didn’t really realize till my adulthood that all of these were flattering.”
Macias still has plenty admiration for “The King,” but the deeper he dug into the dark side, the more certain he became that he wanted to imagine those last few hours of Elvis’ life which were spent, ironically enough, on the throne.
The star died at home in his bathroom, Aug., 16, 1977, age 42. An eyewitness said that, “Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the commode and then had fallen forward.” He could not be revived — except for the million times the tabloids kept reporting that he was alive and living on some far-off island, or Kansas, or Mars. These stories sold, because so many fans didn’t want to live in a world where Elvis had truly left the building.
Macias’ show imagines Elvis realizing something very strange is happening, and calling out to the three most important women in his life: His mama, his first wife, and the woman he loved but didn’t marry.
“Elvis was really a mama’s boy,” says Macias. Elvis was a twin, but his brother was stillborn. The impact on his mom we cannot know, but we do know Gladys Presley was fiercely protective, and that the first time Elvis stepped into Sun Studios — already famous for discovering new talent — it was to record two songs for mama. This cost him $8 — no small amount for a kid just a few months out of high school. He could have made his record at a cheaper place down the street. But Elvis wanted his present to be special.
He may also have known that if it caught the ear of studio, they might sign him up.
Until that point, Elvis was just a poor, shy southern kid growing up in a mostly African-American neighborhood. At around age 6 or 7 he’d gotten a kid-sized guitar (supposedly he’d been hoping for a bike) and taught himself how to play. At age 10, thanks to a teacher’s encouragement, he sang a song, “Old Shep,” a local fair and dairy show, winning fifth place.
By senior year of high school in Memphis, Tenn., he brought his guitar to school to sing at lunchtime to prove his music teacher wrong. She’d told him he had no talent.
But they thought otherwise over at Sun Records. Pretty soon he’d been signed — impresario Colonel Tom Parker had taken him on — and he was playing at regional radio stations and restaurants. When a locally beloved DJ played an Elvis song over and over for three days, the spark finally ignited. Elvis started playing bigger gigs (finally ditching his kiddie guitar), and eventually he became the biggest name in showbiz.
Some say that’s because he was a white man who could sing like a black one, and in a more racially segregated time, that’s what the doctor ordered. Others point to his undeniable sex appeal — which may be attributable to his nerves. Terrified on stage, his legs shook, making him look, well, ready for action. Girls screamed with excitement. He was America’s first real rock star.
Then, at the height of his career, he was drafted. Off he was shipped to Germany and it was there he fell for a girl named Priscilla Beaulieu. The only problem? She was 14.
They dated for seven years before they tied the knot and Priscilla is the second women Elvis talks to in the Marcias piece — a play with music, he says, not a jukebox musical.
The marriage did not end well. Elvis couldn’t stop popping the pills he’d started taking in the army. He was also making movie after movie — about 20 of them — and on one, he fell in love with his co-star, Ann-Margret.
“People called her the Female Elvis,” says Macias. She was a gorgeous, charismatic sex symbol at the top of her game, coming off her hit ‘Bye-Bye Birdie.’ The two never married, but she’s the third woman Elvis turns to in his hour of desperation.
Macias won’t say how the play ends, so we’ll just have to hope the National Enquirer got it right and Elvis is getting back in shape for his amazing comeback.
The King: The Final Hours is playing Oct. 17-28 at The Producers Club. Info and tickets: thefi
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow and founder of Free-Range Kids.
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