Elvis and I were talking about his mother’s death in 1958, as we sat in his bedroom at Graceland. It was the most chaotic, out-of-joint and complicated period in his life: drafted into the Army, leaving behind the career that had skyrocketed two years earlier, unclear what what lay ahead for him.
“Larry, you can’t imagine what it was like for me back then. I mean my life was crashing all around me, everything I dreamed of my whole life. Just when everything was on track, the Army calls me up. My career came to a sudden stop; all the movies I was starring in, my music, everything. You know, Lawrence, I really wondered if anybody would remember me after I got home from the Army, that I’d be some kind of flash–in–the pan. You know, people would say, “hey, whatever happened to that guy who used shake his whole body when he sang?”
Then the first thing they do when they draft me is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head in disbelief. “Can you believe that, Larry, we’re talking about my hair! Then, when I’m struggling to cope with all that, I suddenly lost my mom! My mom was the single most important person in my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one who was always there for me…man, no matter what. That’s a loss you can never really overcome.”
“But you know what, Lawrence, I’m still glad I served my country. I love this country; where else can you dream the impossible dream? Believe me, no one knows better than I do. I’ve lived that dream. My mom kept tellin’ me, even when we were dirt poor, that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I set my mind to it.”
“And you know what, Larry; I didn’t have to be a regular soldier like all the other guys. I was told that if I wanted to I could serve my time in a special service unit; you know, represent the army and visit the other bases around the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing. I would never have done that. I totally turned their offer down. I didn’t want to be treated special or anything like that; it was important to me that all the other guys knew I was just like them.”
Elvis was a Southerner through and through, with a strong sense of history and a great love for his country. He received his vitality and power from the American soil and its people. “Sure, America’s not perfect, but it’s better than anywhere else in the world. I mean, who else is as free as we are? People will even risk their lives to get here. America is the best hope we have for this world. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud that I served my country.”
Elvis embodied the American dream. He rose from the direst circumstances to unparalleled fame and fortune. He also exemplified the American spirit; he was buoyant, audacious, courageous and certainly a innovator. Just like the country he loved, Elvis embraced everyone; whether it was a President, a clerk or a gardner, everyone was treated in the same way by him.
Despite the passage of time, Elvis is still an inspiration to the millions of lives he has touched all over the world. Many who weren’t even born when he died. Elvis’ image, his voice and the power of his personality continue as a vivid, living presence.
Elvis transcends the status of legend; he’s an historic icon. Yet one of the great ironies of his remarkable life can be revealed in a remark he once made, “I wonder,” he said softly…”I wonder if I’ll ever be remembered?”
I think it’s safe to say that we all remember him, and adore him for the remarkable human being he was – uniquely American, yet belonging to the world.