was elvis’ popularity rising or waning at the time of his death?


Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

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. 


Elvis MoodyBlue LP slick1 500

Elvis MoodyBlue LP AFL 600

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.


Elvis Feb1977 JohnsonCity 1000

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. 



2 thoughts on “was elvis’ popularity rising or waning at the time of his death?”

  1. I agree with all you say here.I have in the past read that at the end of 1977 Elvis was the biggest live touring at­trac­tion even though he only toured to the end of June.So he must have been pop­ular even if not selling the mil­lion of al­bums he did in years gone by.


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