Inspired by the outpouring of affection occasioned by the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death (August 16), we dug through the archive cupboard to find the original NME news story from the event. Published almost two weeks after the singer died in his Graceland home (the world moved more slowly in those days), the magazine somewhat disingenuously declared Elvis’ death “a mystery”.
Elvis had released his final single two months previously, ‘Way Down’, and a tell-all book had been published at the beginning of the month of his death. His mental and physical health was in serious decline. A tribute article in the magazine by Mick Farren noted: “There had been so much speculation about Presley’s mental and physical health that his death was unpleasantly unpredictable.” Farren laments Presley’s musical decline, continuing:
I didn’t even regret that I’d never get the chance to see him. The Elvis Presley I’d have given my right arm to watch was the wild hoodlum in the gold jacket who vanished into the US Army and never returned.
Charles Shaar Murray was more scathing in his contribution, describing Elvis as a “Dorian Gray for Our Generation. The human poster was gruesome by the end, and much of his pain must have come from the fact that he knew it.”
Read More: How Did Elvis Presley Die?
Given what we now know about Elvis’ drug-blasted final days, the newsdesk, edited by Derek Johnson at the time, took a cautious and respectful line. NME wrote that although those close to Elvis mentioned that “the singer was taking dozens of pills, and giving himself several injections every day”, the official line was that “he died of a heart attack, but doubtless this was the final result of numerous contributory factors”. NME also queried who Presley’s income would go to, noting that, “he earned an estimated 7,000 million dollars, but spent it on a lavish scale, and set up a huge trust fund for his daughter Lisa. He is believed to have kept 35 million dollars in his current bank account, but the full extent of his fortune will take months – possibly years- to assess.”
The article concludes that “there is likely to be a steady supply of new Presley material for two or three years”. It turns out that was something of an understatement. A remix ‘A Little Less Conversation’ went to Number One in the UK twenty-five years later – and today, in 2017, Elvis remains one of the highest earning musicians in the world.