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The Last Stand of Elvis: A Strong Performance Amidst Obvious Health Issues

Elvis Presley passed away on August 16, 1977, at 42, following prolonged abuse of prescription medications and alcohol. His final appearance before the public took place in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 26, 1977, just a few weeks prior to his sudden death. In the lead-up to his last performance, two of Presley’s concerts were captured on film for a television special on June 19 in Omaha, Nebraska, and June 21 in Rapid City, South Dakota.

The TV special “Elvis in Concert,” showcasing these performances, aired six weeks posthumously. Following several rebroadcasts as per contractual agreement, the Presley estate later restricted its airing due to its portrayal of Elvis in a diminished state, earning the unfortunate nickname “Fat Elvis” concert.

The song “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” marked the final encore in South Dakota, making it the last performance of Presley captured on record. Despite struggling with the spoken parts of the song, Elvis’s vocal performance remained robust. Devoted followers have pointed out in video comments that Presley often playfully altered song lyrics and interludes. However, in this instance, his spoken words were notably more slurred, and his ill health was apparent. Many believe hospital care was necessary at the time.

In a touching reference to his 1973 divorce from Priscilla, Elvis introduced his final song with the words, “This one is called ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ I am, and I was.” The performance was emotional, and despite a moment of awkwardness during the spoken section, which he shared a laugh over with the audience, Elvis regained his composure, and the performance flowed smoothly. Despite his physical condition, his singing remained unaffected. Contrary to his mumbling during the encore, his introduction of “Unchained Melody” earlier was coherent and articulate.

The performance was nothing short of magnificent. A YouTube user named Mikey remarked, “That final glance as he wraps up the song… it’s breathtaking. Growing up, my dad took us to Graceland four times. I understand now, Dad. Such a voice. Such a soul. The King, eternally.”

The disparity between the clear introduction of “Unchained Melody” and the mumbled delivery of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” suggests that severe health issues and exhaustion might have played a role in the challenges Elvis faced during the latter song’s spoken segment. Given it was the encore and considering Elvis’s serious health challenges, including heart enlargement, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, and chronic insomnia, it’s remarkable that he managed to perform 55 shows in the first half of 1977 alone.

Jerry Schilling, a close associate of Presley’s, revealed in his memoir that he questioned Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, about allowing the filming given Elvis’s poor health. Parker allegedly responded that Elvis himself was adamant about proceeding with the special as planned. Throughout my research for this piece, I’ve been consistently amazed by the quality of Elvis’s vocal performance in his final public concert. The king is gone. Long live Elvis!

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