Remembering Elvis: Thank you; thank you very much

Feature | August 2022

Elvis Presley died 45 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977 — just days before he was to perform in concert in Fayetteville. The King had shaked-rattled-and-rolled three concerts here in 1976 that were sold out, and his fans couldn’t wait for his return. A hit movie with Oscar buzz is now showing in theaters nationwide, but it didn’t take another retelling of the legend to rekindle Elvis memories for the many local folks who saw him in concert; who met him at a dinner party at Graceland; or who worked with the rock ’n’ roll icon.

FONDUE & GREAT DANES AT GRACELAND


When people think of Elvis Presley and food, it’s usually about peanut butter and banana sandwiches.


For Carol Adair, it’s cheese fondue.


As queen of Bladen County’s N.C. Blueberry Festival in 1968 and, later, the N.C. Rhododendron Festival, a teenage Carol Ann Bass traveled to Hollywood for “The Dating Game;” to a dozen governor’s mansions to deliver blueberry pies; and to Graceland to have dinner with The King.


“Can you imagine an 18-year-old sitting this close (thumb and forefinger pinched) to Elvis and watching him eat fondue?” she asks.


Adair had met singer Terry Blackwood, who led a gospel group called The Imperials. The band was a warm-up act and played back-up for many concerts in Elvis’ prime. When The King hosted a wedding reception for one of his security guards at his Graceland estate in 1969, Blackwood invited Adair along.


That’s when she sat at the dining-room table with about 20 other guests as Elvis dipped bread into the fondue. And when Elvis’ bride, Priscilla Presley, dropped in carrying a 3-year-old Lisa Marie.


Adair doesn’t remember blue suede shoes, but she does remember the black jumpsuit and big sunglasses Elvis wore.


There was no hound dog cryin’ all the time, but two great Danes did wander unleashed through Graceland, taking her and other guests by surprise.
And she was all shook up when Elvis rented a movie theater so his guests could continue the party into the night and her date decided they would skip the nightcap.


Adair recalls Graceland’s gold grand piano and the “awards room” filled with Elvis’ accolades. She remembers him leading a gospel sing-along, and the roped-off stairway that kept guests from exploring the private quarters above.


Adair recently went with her granddaughter, a 2022 graduate of Cape Fear High School, to catch the new Elvis biopic. When a dining-room scene swept across the screen, Adair nudged her granddaughter.


“I was there,” she whispered. “Right there.”


– Bobby Parker, assistant editor

‘The White House on the Hill’
I spent my high school years, from 1965 to 1970, in Whitehaven, Tennessee, the home of Elvis’ mansion, Graceland. It was the White House on the hill behind the gate with musical notes. You knew he was home if the gates were closed. He would always bring his group of friends, and they’d ride motorcycles around. And he would reserve the theater where his latest movie was playing for their entertainment; sometimes, he’d invite locals to join them. His mom had her hair done at the same beauty shop my mom went to. He was just a regular guy.


I always loved his movies and his music, but I never saw him in concert until he was (in Fayetteville) in 1976. After his death, I visited Graceland. It was no longer just the White House on the hill; the area had been taken into the city limits of Memphis. The property across the street had been turned into a tourist attraction with ticket sales to see Graceland, his car and other memorabilia on display. The area is so commercial now that it looks totally different than when he lived there.


– Joan Blanchard, via Facebook

SHE LOVES ELVIS
When CityView contacted me about Elvis — after someone revealed my Elvis obsession on Facebook — I was sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store going over my shopping list. And listening to the Elvis radio station. What a dream come true to be able to listen to Elvis’ music anytime I want.
So, I gathered my thoughts about my lifelong love of Elvis and his music.


I first saw him perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when I was in fifth grade. Oh, how I was taken with his good looks and his amazing music. After that, I would go to the record store whenever there was a new song released, and they would let us listen to it as long as we wanted. I finally got a record player for my birthday and would save my money to buy his 45-rpm records and, occasionally, an album.


When his first movie, “Love Me Tender,’’ came out, my girlfriends and I rode the bus from Chevy Chase, Maryland, to the Loew’s Theater in downtown Washington, D.C. Of course, I loved the movie but hated the ending, when Elvis dies. Over the years, I would see his movies, but when they started all being alike, I lost interest. But I still loved his music. I was never a screaming Elvis fan; I kept it close to my heart.
My biggest regret is that I never got to see him in person at a concert. I would watch all his TV specials and especially loved his “Comeback Special” in 1968. That was the Elvis I loved.


I remember exactly where I was when he died. Hank and I were in San Francisco driving across the Oakland Bay Bridge. I was nodding off listening to the radio when suddenly the announcer broke into the music to say that Elvis had died. That was a sad day for millions of fans of The King.
When Cape Fear Regional Theatre did a play with Elvis’ music, I had an Elvis party. We served fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, fried chicken, and other of Elvis’ favorite foods. Then the entire gang went to see the musical.


Years later, to celebrate our mutual birthdays, a good friend and I decided to go to Graceland. That would be the closest I could ever get to Elvis, and I absolutely loved the trip. We stayed at the Heartbreak Hotel, where you could watch Elvis’ movies on TV in your room 24 hours a day. We toured Graceland and saw the rooms as they were when he was alive. We even walked through his private jet, the Lisa Marie. For a bunch of Elvis fans, it was a dream come true, second only to seeing one of his concerts. But alas, that was not to be.


When the new Elvis movie came to the Cameo theater, I got a group of friends together and we went to see it. What a remarkable story of his evolution as a singer and heartthrob. It was a real credit to his musical talent and a look at what happens to entertainers along their journey to stardom. As we left the theater, I was able to get my picture taken next to the cutout of Elvis in his glory days. What memories it brought back.


– Diane Parfitt is a CityView columnist and owner of City Center Gallery & Books in downtown Fayetteville.

THAT WAS A BIG SQUEAL
I remember the man in the blinged-out white jumpsuit like it was yesterday. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what all the fuss was about.


Rewind to the summer of 1976. Word spread around the ‘Ville that Elvis was coming to town, and the newspapers showed photos of fans waiting hours (days?) to buy tickets. I mean, seriously long, snake-like lines of folks fanning themselves with whatever they could find in the sweltering heat. Sweating — well, kind of sweating — like The King himself.


“I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” I asked my boyfriend, who worked for a radio station and managed to snag a pair of coveted tickets to the concert. He just kind of smiled. To me, Elvis was more about my parents’ generation. Admittedly, I had danced the twist to his music while knee-high to a grasshopper — on an aunt and uncle’s back patio. But only because they egged me on and I wanted to hear the applause.


Truth is, I was now a teenager — a free-thinking chick who was more into the Eagles than Elvis. But on the night of the first of three Elvis concerts at the arena, this girl couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement. As an imposing figure emerged from the dark stage, and the spotlight shined upon him, I grabbed the binoculars hanging around my boyfriend’s neck, almost choking him. And I squealed. Loudly.
“Not excited, huh? No big deal, right?” the boyfriend responded.


I guess I was all shook up. It was like I had suddenly woken up to the fact this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even during some parts that sounded a bit warbled, the crowd went crazy over Elvis’ every hip swivel and pelvic thrust.


About a year later to the day, as another Elvis concert was in the planning here, the sad news broke. Elvis had died. I think a lot of us remember exactly where we were when we heard. For me, I was “picking a salad” in my parents’ garden. Daddy came out, looking sad, to deliver the news. Gone too soon.


To this day, and forevermore, I am grateful that I got to see Elvis in concert — white jumpsuit and all. It really was a big deal.
– Janet Gibson

ELVIS SLEPT HERE
It’s an unpopular opinion, I know; almost un-American, some have told me. I don’t like Elvis. Despite this, I live in a house that could have an “Elvis slept here” sign posted.


I should have seen it coming.


It was in the Year of Elvis, but all I knew in August 2008 was that I was spending a week at Nu-Wray Inn in Burnsville while my husband, Mike, and the Cape Fear Regional Theatre cast performed “Lunch at the Piccadilly.’’ Picture me at the counter when the hotel manager proudly announces, “I put you in the Elvis Room.” Mistaking my facial expression for excitement, he added, “Yes! The Elvis Room. He stayed here often.”


Fast forward to spring 2009. I’m with Buddy Pittman, account executive with WKML radio, following his chemo. Buddy knows how I feel about Elvis; we laughed about it often. When he showed me his black velvet painting of Elvis, saying it would be mine after his death, I promised to burn it if he actually left it to me.
In April, I told Buddy that we’d bought a new house, and he recognized the property. I mistook his excitement as shared happiness. After moving in, I learned that Elvis had known the first owner, Mac Geddie, and visited occasionally. Apparently, many people knew this, but it never came up before closing. I’d have never signed the papers had I known.


Just before his death, Buddy came to see the house, bringing me the black velvet painting, a gift I couldn’t refuse under the circumstances. It hangs on a bedroom wall, hidden behind the open door, but it’s there — a remembrance of Buddy and the friendship we shared.


The painting stays with the house when we sell. I loved Buddy, but not enough to keep an Elvis painting.


– Tammie Rice, Eastover

A movie premiere and a tour of Graceland

Jeff Thompson shares memories outside his home of having tickets for him and his wife to see the King in Fayetteville the year Elvis died. Tony Wooten/CityView Media


My late wife, Jean, and I lived in Charlotte during the early 1970s. On a Sunday morning (I believe in 1975) a front-page article in The Charlotte Observer indicated Elvis Presley had scheduled a concert at the coliseum. My wife directed me to get tickets right away. So at 8 a.m., I drove to the outdoor box office at the coliseum.


When I arrived, there were already two lines a block long at the ticket window. I waited a while, got two tickets for $24 and returned home. I learned later that the concert had sold out by 10 a.m. We saw Elvis but were surprised that he had gained a lot of weight.


We later moved back to Fayetteville and learned that Elvis had performed three shows in August of 1976 at the Cumberland County Memorial Arena. We were surprised that he had come to Fayetteville. He stayed at what then was the Ramada Inn Hotel on Eastern Boulevard.


Then, out of the blue, the King of Rock ’n’ Roll was scheduled to return to Fayetteville on Aug. 25, 1977. He didn’t make it because he died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Memphis on Aug. 16.


Folks with tickets to the canceled concert were told they could get refunds or donate to the heart fund in Elvis’ memory. The names of those who did so were inscribed on a plaque that was hung on the wall outside the arena. A renovation of the area in 2008 resulted in the plaque being removed.


Country music singer Ronnie McDowell and the Stamps Quartet appeared at the arena on Aug. 25 as a tribute to Elvis. McDowell, who described himself as a big fan of Elvis, is remembered for his 1977 song “The King Is Gone,” a testimonial to Elvis.


The radio station I worked at bought several dozen copies of the Aug. 17 Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper and sold them for a dollar each to people who came by the station wanting mementos. The money was donated to the heart fund.


In 1981, Jean and I were invited to attend the premiere of the movie “This Is Elvis’’ at the Memphis theater that Elvis often attended. While in Memphis, we stayed at the prestigious Peabody Hotel.


During that trip, we were among the dozen or so visitors who were the first members of the public to go inside Graceland. It had been closed since Elvis’ death. We were taken to the room where Elvis’ jumpsuits and memorabilia were exhibited.


– Jeff Thompson, who lives in Fayetteville, is a longtime radio newsman.