Wednesday, Aug. 17, 1977 | 6 a.m.
Elvis Presley collapsed and died at his home in Memphis, Tenn. Tuesday and the tragedy sent a rippling shock through Las Vegas where he made his show business comeback and attained a popularity peak from which he never descended.
At the Hilton, where Elvis had made exclusive Las Vegs appearances since 1969, executives were caught by surprise and reacted numbly.
Barron Hilton, head of the worldwide hotel chain, had flown into Las Vegas for a late afternoon advertising conference but cancelled it after word of Presley's death was flashed at 12:30 p.m. PDT.
Hilton, who had befriended Presley here, issued a terse statement of tribute but declined press interviews. In part, his statement said, "...Presley was more than just a great talent, he was a good friend to all of us at the Las Vegas Hilton."
Henry Lewin, the Hilton's senior vice president, was more graphic. Stopping for a hallway interview in the hotel's buzzing executive suite, he referred to Presley as "...an absolute superstar who was also a very simple person."
"I am going to miss him. It makes me very sad that this could happen," Lewin said.
"The man had no season. He was unique and he was magic to our (gaming and tourism) industry," the Hilton executive stated.
Initial conflicting reports said Presley died of a heart attack, respiratory failure and an overdose of drugs.
Doctors at Baptist Hospital in Memphis, where the dead entertainer was initially taken, issued a statement in the late afternoon which said he died of an "erratic heartbeat."
Presley apparently collapsed in a bathroom of his Graceland Mansion in Memphis and was found face down on the floor by his road manager, Joe Esposito, at 3:3 p.m. Memphis time. However, Shelby county Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco said Presley may have been dead more than five hours before he was found.
Francisco told reporters after an autopsy Presley died of "cardiac arrythmia," which he described as a severely irregular heartbeat. he said it was brought about by "undetermined causes."
Both Francisco and Dr. George Nichopoulos, Presley's physician in Memphis, emphasized there was "no evidence of any illegal drug use."
Rumors had persisted for more than a year in Las Vegas that Presley was a heavy user of cocaine, but the rumors were never confirmed.
Dr. Elias Ghanem, Presley's Las Vegas physician who was also a personal friend, expressed extreme surprise when told of the entertainer's death from heart failure.
"Why, he was in perfect health," ghanem said in news interviews. "I personally gave him a physical examination for insurance reasons only recently. I can't understand this," he exclaimed.
Ghanem cancelled all late afternoon appointments at his office on Joe W. Brown Drive in the shadow of the Hilton Hotel and flew to Memphis for a firsthand review of events.
The Las Vegas doctor last year was a recipient of Presley's well known generosity. After treating the entertainer for pneumonia, Ghanem was gifted with a $42,000 Stutz racing car and a $16,000 Mercedes sedan.
Ghanem's claim that Presley's health was good contradicted other reports which alleged fame and wealth had taken its physical toll long before the singing idol's death Tuesday at the age of 42.
Noticeably overweight during the last few years, Presley was plagued with problems of hypertension and an elarged colon. He was admitted five times in the past four years for treatment at Baptist Hospital in Memphis.
In Las Vegas, Presley cut his appearances at the Hilton from eight eight times a year to twice a year and in 1976 departed from the two-shows-a-night tradition to doing only one show.
His last appearance in Las Vegas was December, 1976, but Hilton executives expected him back this fall.
When the Hilton first opened on July 2, 1969, it was the International Hotel and Barbra Streisand opened in the showroom. Presley followed her on July 31, making his first nightclub appearance in 10 years.
His salary at the hotel was never made public but unconfirmed reports said it was upwards of $200,000 for each engagement. In later years he was said to have earned $300,00 a week in Las Vegas.
He filled the 2,000 seat Hilton showroom for every performance. To see his show, reservations had to be made months in advance. Fans stood in line up to 12 hours at a stretch to catch his act.
But if Presley brought business to the Hilton, he also brought problems.
There were times, especially during the past two years, when Presley's off-stage antics rendered him immobile and he could not make his scheduled showroom appearances.
But he crowds he drew and the gamblers who followed him to Las Vegas and the Hilton's casino, more than made up for his temporary inconveniences.
his first Las Vegas appearance was at the Old Frontier Hotel on the Strip where the Frontier now stands. That was in April, 1956, and Presley was listed third on the entertainment bill behind the Freddy Martin band and comedian Shecky Greene. He didn't go over well and was not signed for a return engagement.
Years later at the Hilton, things would be different. Presley was so idolized he was forced to stay in his five room suite, except for showroom performances, or be mobbed by crowds of fans.
With such single hits as "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel", Presley became a national legend before his 25th birthday. His long-playing records were the fastest selling albums in history. They reached astronomical levels in the eight figures, and made "Elvis the Pelvis" famous in every corner of the land.
The great teenagers' idol was born in Tupelo, miss. on Jan. 8, 1935, one of a pair of twins, to Gladys and Vernon Presley.
His mother said: "We matched their names - Jesse Garon and Elvis Aron. Jesse died when he was born. Maybe that is why Elvis is so dear to us."
She often reminisced about her son's early childhood.
"When Elvis was just a little fellow," she said, "he would slide off my lap in church, run down the aisle, and scramble up to the platform. He would stand looking at the choir and try to sing with them. He was too little to know the words, but he could carry the tune."
The future musical star, with his two parents, appeared as a popular singing trio at camp meetings, revivals and church conventions. Elvis' father purchased a guitar for the boy at a cost of $12.95.
His mother recalled: "he liked the guitar best of all his things. He'd sit in front of the radio picking out melodies, or play the phonograph, trying to learn the songs he heard."
The family moved to Memphis when Elvis was 13. He attended the L.C. Humes High School, and worked as an usher in a local movie theater. After graduation, he took a job at $35 a week driving a truck.
The fabulous Presley career had its humble beginning in the summer of 1953, when Elvis dropped into the office of the Sun Record Co. in Memphis and paid out four dollars to cut a record. He took the record home and played it over and over again.
A year later he went back to Sun and cut another record, but this one was for the company rather than for himself. It was released in the summer of 1954, under the title "That's All Right, Mama" and drew some attention but was not a big hit. Listeners noted in the song a new quality - a blend of hillbilly and rock-'n-roll. His next recorded song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" did better.
A shrewd song promoter named Col. Thomas Parker was impressed by the records. He took over management of Elvis and toured him throughout rural areas under the moniker "The Hilly Billy Cat."
Elvis' big change of fortune came in the fall of 1954 at the annual convention of the Country and Western Disc Jockeys Assn. in Nashville, Tenn.
Steve Sholes, head of RCA Victor's specialties division, heard Presley's records at this meeting - and felt that he was a winner.
Sholes approached Sam Phillips, chief of Sun Records, who had Elvis under contract. He offered him the then unheard of sum of $35,000 for the masters of all five of Presley's records for RCA-Victor.
What's more, he gave Presley a bonus which permitted the youth to buy the first of a long string of Cadillacs. Victor broke all previous precedents by releasing the five records simultaneously...and history was made.
Elvish changed the course of popular music with such hits as "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up," and "It's Now or Never." The long-sideburned youth with undulating lips, snake eyes, demi-sneer, skin tight pants, gyrating pelvis, and electric guitar made a particular dent in teenage consciousness with the tune, "Heartbreak Hotel."
Some critics judge Presley to have been the most important popular musical figure fo the third quarter of the century. The well-known musicologist Alan Lomax for instance, believed Presley liberated American popular music from the European tradition.
From the years 1956 through 1958, the American Bandstand poll ranked Presley the nation's most popular male singer.
He received $1 million a piece for filming four successful movies: "Love Me Tender," "Loving You," "Jailhouse Rock", and "King Creole." The pictures, combined with his records, made his name a household word.
In 1958 Presley began a two-year hitch in the United States Army. He served in Bad Nauheim, Germany, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
New records he had made before his induction were judiciously released while he was abroad, and his popularity still was high upon his return to civilian life.
Now came a fresh spate of movies: "GI Blues," "Blue Hawaii," "Fun in Acapulco," "Viva Las Vegas," "Harum Scarum," "Double Trouble," "Clambake," and "Change of Habit."
When his movies started to lose audience appeal, Col. Parker arranged for his protege to make special television appearances.
Presley was meantime becoming richer and richer, driving about in a Rolls Royce and five Cadillacs - painted white, pink, blue, canary yellow and goold.
His house in Memphis, and a Grecian palace he purchased in Bel Air, creaked with pinball machines, pool tables, and jukeboxes.
In 1967 he married Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, and they had a daughter the following year. The couple separated in 1972.
Presley went into semiretirement during the late 1960s, with 400 million records and 31 films to his credit.
When he made a brief reappearance in the limelight in 1972, he found his fans still faithful.