When Elvis Presley was born, his parents were racked with both joy and a sense of tragedy for when Elvis Presley, destined to be the king of Rock and Roll was born his twin brother was born dead. And this is just the sort of tragic celebration and miraculous hope that would follow Presley for the rest of his life. More recognized than any other figure in musical history worldwide, Elvis Presley’s death came as a shock to fans. But when he started appearing once again worldwide, it was even more of a shock.
Why is it that a celebrity can die and leave people with a sense that they have lost someone they’ve known? Perhaps it’s because a celebrity is a one-sided friend who may be unaware of us, yet they become such a large part of our culture that they are archetypes of people we may know in real life. And while there’s no doubt that some archetypes may have been the cause of many of the sightings, the phenomenon of seeing Elvis after he died was so profound on the culture of mourning fans that it in some ways ended up outliving the musician’s own career in some ways.
In a typical story that would later reach tabloid headlines, Elvis would appear to truck drivers, announcing his identity and then ask to “go home.” Of course he would never then appear again. Elvis impersonators quickly flooded Las Vegas, attempting in some ways to fill the void of the culture that was unexpectedly beheaded by the loss of The King. People who were not even familiar with his music would instantly be able to point out a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator in a crowd. His eccentric way of dressing during the final months of his career quickly became a mainstream symbol of American music.
But there have been other musical figures who have tragically died. Presidents have died even while in office. People have lost every type of figure associated with American culture. And yet none have been seen by so many people after they died. Elvis was reportedly soon associated with every type of paranormal phenomenon, often being promoted by tabloid media and outright fictionalizations of other sightings. The theory that Elvis had been abducted by aliens was accepted by a tongue-in-cheek group within the paranormal field. Elvis’ ghost was spotted at Graceland by fans for decades. The home he had occupied for 20 years, Graceland was visited by throngs in the thousands. And several of them left with a sense that The King was still living.
So why Elvis and no other figure like him? When Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, and Princess Diana died, there were all subgroups within the culture that believed the deaths had been staged. But none of them caught on to such a degree that the belief became so widely mainstream. Or is it just that Elvis himself became associated with it closely because someone of note faking their own deaths was such a new and novel idea? Of course there is another theory. What if those that said Elvis didn’t die were really right? If this were the case, Elvis would be 76 today. Certainly not the oldest person in the world, but also not likely to be making an appearance on stage once again.