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Thomas Durden Dies

Thomas Durden, who wrote the lyrics to one of Elvis Presley's early big hits, "Heartbreak Hotel,'' has died at age 79.
BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) - Thomas Durden, who wrote the lyrics to one of Elvis Presley's early big hits, "Heartbreak Hotel,'' has died at age 79.

"He wrote a lot of good music that is out there. It's just that "Heartbreak Hotel' is the famous one,'' said his stepson, John White.

Durden, who died Sunday at his home in Houghton Lake, met Presley as a result of the song. Presley called him "sir'' and sent Durden Christmas cards to show his appreciation, White said.

Durden co-wrote "Heartbreak Hotel'' with Mae Boren Axton of Nashville, Tenn., who died in 1997. For reasons never explained, Presley also was
given writing credit even though it was the work of Durden and Axton.

Durden was born in Georgia and grew up in Florida, where his older brother had a musical influence on him. Durden had a good voice and a special talent for playing the steel guitar, which he refined throughout his life, White said.

In 1956, Durden was single and performing with a band in Jacksonville, Fla., when he came across a newspaper account of a man who had committed suicide, White said.

The man left a note that said, "I walk a lonely street,'' and Durden used it as the basis for "Heartbreak Hotel,'' which begins:

"Since my baby left me
I found a new place to dwell
down at the end of lonely street at
Heartbreak Hotel."

Durden continued to write and perform music, playing with Nashville legends like Johnny Cash and touring with Tex Ritter, White said.

He moved north to the Houghton Lake area and lived there for about 40 years. He performed with bands in northern Michigan, and their sets always included his hit song, White said.

In a 1982 interview, Durden spoke of the impact "Heartbreak Hotel'' had on his life. "I wish I had 12 more songs just like it,'' Durden said. "It has paid the rent for more than 20 years, but you can't get rich writing songs unless you have a lot of big ones.''
Source: Associated Press / Updated: Oct 19, 1999
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