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Wrecked, Incoherent Speech, Sang Oh, My. 46 Years Later, It Still Resonates

Elvis Presley, an enduring icon of music and cultural phenomenon, tragically passed away on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42. His untimely death followed years of struggling with prescription drug abuse and alcoholism, which had taken a severe toll on his health. His final public appearance occurred in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 26, 1977, just weeks before his passing. Prior to this, two significant performances were captured on film for a television special: one in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 19, and another in Rapid City, South Dakota, on June 21.

These performances, later featured in “Elvis in Concert,” aired posthumously, six weeks after Presley’s death. Despite initial reruns, the Presley estate eventually limited further broadcasts due to concerns over the special’s portrayal of Presley’s declining health, which unfortunately led to its colloquial nickname as the “Fat Elvis” concert.

The final encore of the South Dakota concert, where Presley performed “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” stands as his last recorded act. Despite his physical decline, Presley’s vocal performance remained strong, though marked by struggles with the spoken parts of the song. Commentators noted that while Presley often playfully altered lyrics and interludes during performances, his speech during this period was notably slurred, indicating his deteriorating condition.

Reflecting on his personal struggles, including his 1973 divorce from Priscilla Presley, Elvis introduced “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” with poignant words: “This one is called Are You Lonesome Tonight? I am, and I was.” Despite the challenges, Presley’s emotive delivery during the song showcased his enduring talent and ability to connect with his audience.

A notable contrast can be seen between his clear presentation of “Unchained Melody” earlier in the show and the mumbled delivery of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” highlighting the severity of his health issues and fatigue. Despite these challenges, Presley managed an impressive schedule, performing 55 shows in the first half of 1977 alone.

Jerry Schilling, a close confidant of Presley, recounted in his memoirs questioning Colonel Tom Parker, Presley’s manager, about the decision to film despite Presley’s visible decline. Parker reportedly insisted that it was Presley’s wish to proceed as planned. Reflecting on Presley’s final concert, many admirers marvel at the resilience and emotional depth of his performance, despite the circumstances.

Elvis Presley’s legacy endures not only through his music but also through the profound impact he had on popular culture. His ability to transcend generations with his voice and charisma solidifies his status as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

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