How are people going to remember me when I’m gone?

‘How are people going to remember me when I’m gone?’ he wanted to know. ‘Will they soon forget me?’

It was May 1977 in a hotel in the small city of Binghamton, New York lying lonely and depressed in his suite, temporarily abandoned after his latest girlfriend had become bored with the treadmill of touring. As a boy, he’d dreamed that success would free him and his family from poverty. But then he’d discovered that fame on his level imprisoned as well as released. He wasn’t the first rock and roll singer, but he was the first rock superstar, a status which meant that not only was there no one from whose experience he could learn, but also there was no one with whom he could share the burden of being himself – of being Elvis. Throughout his life he would often say that he’d always felt lonely. That was understandable. No one, other than he, knew what it was like to be under the relentless glare of devotion and attention, to be the alchemist who could turn music into so much love and so much gold.

How are people going to remember me when I'm gone

His ambition had been to become rich and famous. His extraordinary two-and-a-half-octave voice, with another level in falsetto, had achieved that and more for him. But when he left the stage, when the cameras were turned away and the spotlight was switched off, what then? Where did he fit in? Nowhere. Impossible to catego-rise, outrageous celebrity locked him out of any semblance of the real world. And, as the years passed, he retreated to his court, whether it be at his Graceland mansion home in Memphis, or in Hollywood or Las Vegas, where his courtiers would cosset him in his fears, insecurities and depression.

Just fourteen weeks before his death, he was mentally broken, emotionally spent. How could he have fallen into this state of despair? What had gone wrong for the man blessed with so many gifts and talents? From the outside he seemed to have it all. But, looking out at the adoring fans one night some months earlier, he had said bleakly to one of his staff: ‘Those people don’t love me in a personal way. They don’t know what’s inside me.’

They couldn’t. But, had they been able to see inside his mind, what would they have found? Most likely a multiple pile-up of warring desires, duties and pressures. By then his past had been in endless conflict with his present for over twenty years, his dreams blunted by brutish reality as his artistic ambitions lost out to his needs and to the demands of his manager and himself for an endless supply of money. On film and stage he displayed a charming bravura. But was that a mask behind which he hid his fears and weaknesses?

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