Elvis Still the King 20 Years Later (thankyouverymuch)July 23, 1997
WACO, Texas - Elvis may have left the building, but he may never leave our hearts.
Presley checked out of Heartbreak Hotel for the last time on Aug. 16, 1977, and the 20th anniversary of his death will be a significant event for his fans worldwide, not to mention a mega media event. As many as 100,000 people are expected to converge in Memphis and at Presley's Graceland home during several Elvis celebrations.
From the Flying Elvises parachute group to Elvis dinner plates to his still best-selling recordings, Presley's popularity has never waned in the two decades since his death. Why has Elvis had such a profound affect on us?
"He's the classic hero who had a tragic ending," says Dr. Lewis Barker, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor.
"Elvis had all of the ingredients we look up to - he was a common man born of very humble beginnings who went from rags to riches, who served his country in the military, and who become a sex symbol with a very charismatic yet secretive personality. He had his Achilles heel with drugs, and the way he died adds to the myth surrounding him.
"He was a man of the people with incredible popularity and whom we came to admire despite his actions in later years."
Barker grew up in the 1950s and admits he was an Elvis fan, but "my brother was really a big, big fan. We both thought Elvis was something of a rebel with his shaking and mannerisms and swivel hips. It was a mild form of rebellion compared to what you see today, but he was something totally different in the 1950s. No one was like Elvis.
"He seemed to appeal to all age groups, all ethnic groups. You listened to his records and you went to his movies, and he became part of American culture like few other people have in our history."
That Presley is a cultural icon will never be disputed, says Dr. Larry Lyon, professor of sociology. "He died very young (at age 42) and that only contributed to his popularity," believes Lyon. "Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley - all three died young and all are as popular today as they were when they were alive.
"In our minds, they will never grow old because they died young. You will never see Elvis with gray hair or bifocals, and the fact he died young adds to the aura surrounding him.
"The kids today, 90 percent of them never saw Elvis when he was alive. They've only seen him in news footage and film clips. They've heard about him over and over again from their parents or seen him in the media, and that just adds to the aura of the Presley myth."
It could be said, Lyon believes, that Presley has "almost become a religious figure for many people. Every year at the anniversary of his death, you see thousands of people at Graceland holding candles in his honor. They make a pilgrimage to the site where he died. His death stirred so many emotions in his fans."
Twenty years from now, will there still be such a commotion regarding Presley's death?
"Almost certainly," believes Barker. "His popularity has been passed from one generation to another, and I don't see the media interest in him ever fading one bit."
For more information on Elvis' affect on Americans' lives and the impact of his death on us, contact Barker at (254) 755-2961 or home at 776-4652.
For more information about Elvis' affect on American culture and our thoughts about him today, contact Lyon at (254) 755-1165 or home at 776-4787.