THIS TIME, the question on Quora allowed me room to speculate something that, unlike so so many others, I just do not like doing. For one reason, just like so so many others, my speculation is so often inaccurate. Despite my love of science fiction literature—esoecaiily time travel stories—thinking about what might have been, or making predictions based on what currently is, usually holds no attraction for me.
But with this question on Quora, my what-if scenario is obvious. The question was, “Was Elvis still very popular when he passed away?” While the official cause of death was given as cardiac arrest with no complications involving drugs, more realistic causes include anaphylactic shock due to an allergic response to the codeine pills he had taken, or polypharmacy, an unpredictable interaction caused by the simultaneous use of multiple drugs.
My answer—which is really just a sketchy overview of many factors in play in 1977—is indented below between the images.
The image on top is the original cover slick for the MOODY BLUE album, and I like the deep blue border. The image below is the album cover as it was released in July 1977 and I prefer its overall look. Both designs are fine, but I don’t see the need for the blue border on either.
What could have happened
When Elvis Presley died in August 1977, sales of his latest titles in the American market were fine compared to most artists but modest compared to what they had been a few years earlier. A new Elvis album usually sold several hundred thousand units straight off.
The initial response to Elvis’ latest album, MOODY BLUE, released in July 1977, was better than previous albums. It sold out its entire first press run of 250,000 copies on translucent blue vinyl within a month of release! It might have gone gold without the brouhaha that followed his death.
His vast back catalog sold exceptionally well here and abroad. There were so many singles and albums in print that annual sales were huge. And the popularity and sales of older Presley albums were growing outside the US.
As a concert attraction, he continued to sell huge amounts of tickets when he toured and performed at Vegas or Tahoe, with sell-out crowds the norm.
Of course, everyone was becoming aware of his often bizarre behavior off-stage and increasingly on-stage. The book Elvis: What Happened? had arrived a few months earlier and Presley’s drug abuse was a topic of concern among fans, few of whom could deny some kind of drug-related problems.
It’s difficult to say what could have happened had he not died within the confines of Graceland. He could have dramatically dropped dead on stage, which would have been a more fitting finale.
Had he survived that night—had he simply not taken the wrong drugs (anaphylactic shock) or too many drugs (polypharmacy)—to have gone on longer he would have had to make major changes in his life to clean up his act.
These would have been needed to both maintain his health and to not be the subject of growing ridicule. Declining health and declining skills on stage would have probably led to declining popularity.
Of course, we’ll never know what could have happened. We do know that at the time he passed away in August 1977, Elvis Presley was still very popular.
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken on February 19, 1977, at Johnson City, Tennessee. I found it on the Elvis Presley in Concert website. Elvis appears to be on one of his better days: he doesn’t look as bloated or forlorn as he often did during his last year.