Elvis Presley died on 16 August 1977 at the age of 42, after years of prescription drug and alcohol abuse. His last public performance was in Indianapolis, Indiana, on 26 June 1977, less than two months before his untimely demise. A week before his last show, two Presley shows were filmed for a TV special (19/6, Omaha, Neb & 21/6, Rapid City, S.D).
Elvis in Concert, comprised of footage from these two shows, was broadcast 6 weeks after Presley’s death. The special had several repeats, as specified by the contract, thereafter the Presley estate prevented its screening, as it shows Presley at his unhealthiest and it was widely referred to as the “Fat Elvis” concert. This is unfortunate.
Are You Lonesome Tonight? was the final encore of the South Dakota show, which makes it Presley’s last recorded performance. While Presley has difficulty with the spoken word section of the song, his singing voice was in fine form. As loyal fans note in the comments, Presley often messed around with the lyrics and interludes of songs. Nonetheless, Presley does mumble the spoken words more than usual and he is clearly in poor health. Biographers have said that he should have been in hospital.
Poignantly, in light of his divorce from Priscilla in October 1973, Presley starts his last recorded song with the comment: “This one is called Are You Lonesome Tonight? I am, and I was”. The singing is heartfelt, and after the awkward spoken interlude, which he laughs off with the audience, Presley recovers and the words flow. He may be bloated, but he sure sings fine. Also, in contrast with his mumbling in his encore, he is lucid & clear when introducing Unchained Melody earlier in the show
What a sublime performance! Mikey comments on YouTube: “That last look when he ends the song…my God, I got goosebumps. My dad dragged us to Graceland four times growing up. I finally get it now, Pops. What a voice. What a heart. The King, forever”.
The contrast between the introduction to Unchained Melody and the mumbling in Are You Lonesome Tonight? makes it plausible that severe ill health and fatigue contributed to Presley losing his way in the spoken word section of the latter song. It was the encore, after all, and, despite his manifest health difficulties, which included an enlarged heart, intestinal issues, hypertension, and barely sleeping, Presley performed 55 shows in the first six months of 1977.
Jerry Schilling, a member of Presley’s inner circle, states in his memoir that he asked Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, how he could allow Presley to be filmed when he looked so unhealthy. Parker is alleged to have replied that it was Presley who insisted that the special go ahead as scheduled. Throughout the research I carried out for this article, I have been genuinely surprised and impressed by the quality of Presley’s singing in his last recorded public concert. The king is dead. Long live Elvis!