THE ELVIS OF THE ’70s in his fantastical jumpsuits and expanding waistline has found attention from artists who seem determined to give an ugly rendition of the man. Partly due to the many caricatures of Elvis as grossly obese and sloppy-looking, many non-fans have it in their heads that he was gross and sloppy during his life. 1
This was not true: the rounded, bloated look of his past few years was due to the extraordinary amount of drugs he ingested—not a slothful lifestyle. But the July 1976 issue of National Lampoon featured a nasty caricature of Elvis with a huge beer-belly and thick thighs, both bursting the seams on his jumpsuit.
It is, alas, this image of the “fat Elvis” that remains in many people’s memories.
It is this image of him—one that lasted only a relatively short time, that remains in many people’s memories—although that’s the way it wasn’t in the ’70s. The over-the-top take on Presley’s appearance was in line with the generally crude humor that the National Lampoon’s fans enjoyed.
The magazine cover actually received far more attention than Presley’s new recordings were receiving at the time. Because of the importance of that magazine image, I have devoted an entire article to it: “The (Unfortunately) Enduring Image Of Fat Elvis.”
While Presley’s appearance—good and bad—are just targets for any caricaturist, I did not select any that I thought reflected inspiration from the National Lampoon cover. 2
This is what Elvis looked like at the time that National Lampoon hit the newsstands: this photo was taken at the Philadelphia Spectrum on June 28, 1976. The bloating of his face is obvious but what is surprising—or at least should be to those thoughtless caricaturists—is his rather trim waist. But things went downhill quickly after this.
There have to be others!
Finally—and this is very important—with few exceptions, all of the caricatures of Elvis that I found on the Internet are of recent vintage. In fact, most of them were created after the Internet became a household application.
Despite Presley’s worldwide fame from 1956 through his death in 1977, there are very few caricatures of him done while he was alive. Hirschfeld’s drawings from 1956 and 1968 were the only examples I could find. 3
Below I have linked the artist’s name to an appropriate website for more of the artist’s work whenever possible.
Artist: Pablo Lobato
This highly and sleekly stylized rendition of Elvis is a modern nod toward one of the first expressions of modern art, Cubism. It depicts Elvis from the mid-’70s: round-faced, heavy sideburns, custom shades, showy outfit.
Artist: Jota Leal
This could be Elvis in the ’50s or the ’70s—I see the latter and so this image is included here. I am uncertain as to what is going on here: Elvis looks surly, the swollen lips and squinted eyes look more like “If you’re looking for trouble, you’ve come to the right place,” than they do “Any way you want me, well that’s how I will be.”
Artist: Steve Roberts
Don’t know why, but this drawing of a happy, sleek Elvis reminds me of a youthful Dennis Quaid.
The artist placed the young and beautiful face of Elvis from the ’50s atop a body drawn from the 1973 Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite television special.
Artis: Zack Wallenfang
The drawing was inspired by scenes of Elvis rehearsing for the filming of the MGM movie That’s The Way It Is, released in late 1970. If it wasn’t for the exaggeration given Presley’s lower lip and chin, this might not qualify as a caricature.
This drawing could have been inspired by almost any year in the ’70s, although the huge sideburns and the high collar suggests the middle years.
Artist: Peter Pismetrovic
I found the artist’s sketchbook for this drawing and included it as the drawing of the King there is harsher and uglier, looking somewhat like an Elvis from Bizarro World.
Artist: Paul Moyse
For some reason, this reminds me of actor Bobby Cannavale, who lit up the third season of Boardwalk Empire as the sociopathic mobster Gyp Rosetti, and the coke-sniffing, party-loving head of a small record company in the ’70s in Vinyl.
Artist: Don Coker
Here the King looks drunkenly sloshed—a state of being he apparently never experienced.
Artist: Luis Felloe
The Aloha Elvis with a gigantic jaw and chin. I never thought of Presley as having that prominent a chin, but as other caricaturists focus on it, I assume others see it more readily than I.
Artist: Zack Wallenfang
Except for the exaggerated facial features, this is as close to a loving portrait of Elvis as can be found on this page.
FEATURED IMAGE: Artist Bogdan Covaciu put a baby-faced Elvis (from the Sun Years but with dyed-black hair) atop the shoulders of the mid-’70s jumpsuit with the high, stiff collar. In this drawing, I see a young Nicholas Cage.
Finally, most of the artists represented in this series of articles of mine are young; they did not live through the years when Presley was alive. many of them are unaware that the negative things about the man that affects their conceptual judgment of how they see and render Elvis are things that were not known about Elvis while he was alive.
While his fluctuating weight was fair game in the ’70s, the ugly side of the man—real and not so real (such as many of Albert Goldman’s revelations)—was rarely on public display.
Unless you attended one of the concert performances where Elvis lost it, you couldn’t know about his temper. During most of his life, Presley was known for his unfailing politeness, his temperance, his generosity and good deeds, and his good humor.
Many of youthful artists who caricature the Elvis of the ’70s seem oblivious to these things. Oddly, Presley’s countless infatuations with women and his seeming obsession with handguns and police memorabilia are rarely addressed by caricaturists.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, I have planned four volumes of caricatures of Elvis in the ’50s, and two each for the ’60s and the ’70s. There are at least two artists who have done enough high-quality caricatures of Presley to merit a volume of their own, Al Hirschfeld and Alberto “Sting” Russo. Here are links to the volumes:
The First Published Caricature of Elvis Presley
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 1 (Rockin’ the 50s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 2 (Rollin’ the 50s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 3 (Rattlin’ the 50s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 4 (Shaggin’ the 50s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 5 (Stuck on the 60s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 6 (Wild in the 60s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 7 (Elvis by Hirschfeld)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 8 (Love Letters from the 70s)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 9 (Aloha from the 70)
Elvis’ Golden Caricatures Volume 10 (Elvis by Russo)
1 The designs on Elvis’s jumpsuits were usually very specific and often included popular and arcane symbols of religion, philosophy, and mysticism. To Presley’s detractors, these suits were merely so much gaudy excess.
2 While the National Lampoon may have originated with a group of Harvard graduates and their experiences with the university’s satiric paper the Harvard Lampoon, most of its humor is decidedly low-brow.
3 This can’t be right—there have to be other caricatures of Presley done while he was alive! If you are aware of any, please contact me.