The Curse Of Elvis

By Las Vegas Weekly/ Richard AbowitzJul 30, 2009
The Curse Of Elvis

Forty years on, looking back at a Vegas residency that spawned a stigma On July 31, 1969, Elvis Presley played the first headliner show at the Las Vegas International (soon to be the Hilton). He played to an invited VIP audience. At the time, Las Vegas existed outside the counterculture erupting around the rest of the country. George Carlin could still get fired for swearing here, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had not yet been written.


The rock generation might not have been going to Elvis’ movies, but he still had its ear as he arrived in Vegas, triumphant off of his still-revered ’68 Comeback Special. Two months before opening in Vegas, he released what might have been his best studio album, From Elvis in Memphis. Sure, 10 years of bad movies were behind him, but Presley was still a major music player re-entering the game, and Las Vegas was to be the staging ground for the ultimate comeback by the then-best-selling solo artist of all time.

Putting Presley onstage in Vegas with a band of gospel musicians might not have appeased his early rock following—or endeared him to the counterculture—but it found him revitalized and making his best music since his Sun Studio days.

Vegas was not meant to be the grave it became for Presley, but rather the launch of a new model, in which a hot artist could forsake touring and let audiences come to him. Old-school entertainers, like Frank Sinatra, had been doing Vegas for years, but their success did not rise and fall with the charts, nor did their audience expect a tour to follow each new release.

Elvis’ always-ingenious manager, Colonel Tom Parker, got his man record sums of money for Vegas, and, at first, Presley responded with some of his best music, bringing all his influences—blues, rock, gospel, country and pop—to one stage. Early live Hilton recordings remain among Presley’s most vital work, offering a sound he had a large hand in creating (compared with his produced studio work).
Entering with Elvis Presley, Vegas hit the rock world on top. Had it all stayed there, maybe artists like Bruce Springsteen and Lou Reed would not have avoided the Vegas stage for decades. But Presley died a pathetic, bloated, drug-addled parody of himself in 1977, and that image became nearly synonymous with Vegas. On bootlegs, you can hear the King near the end, talking about karate and cracking bad jokes as much as singing. And his voice, when he does sing, is shocking, lacking any of the cocksure confidence and bottomless power that defined his music as late as singles like “Burning Love.”

A year before Presley died, critic Bill Burke, witnessing a Hilton show, wrote a review quoted in Peter Guralnick’s definitive Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley: “After sitting through Elvis Presley’s closing-night performance at Las Vegas Hilton, one wonders how much longer it can be before the end comes, perhaps suddenly, and why the King of Rock ’n’ Roll would subject himself to possible ridicule.” Such ridicule became symptomatic, though Presley’s sold-out crowds here seemed indifferent to his dissipated talent.

Not until the Joint and House of Blues opened in the 1990s did Vegas became a regular touring stop. Even then, artists playing those hot venues could be found insisting to the press that Vegas was just another tour stop—and not the spot where bygone musicians went to die.

The century rolled over by the time Celine Dion opened her Vegas show, A New Day. That’s how long it took for a major artist to repeat the Presley model of 1969. Dion paid tribute to Elvis in her show’s music and style, and, while she lacked Presley’s artistic greatness, the ease of her success helped erode the Vegas stigma. The door once shut by Presley’s Vegas decay suddenly opened for headliners from Elton John to Prince to Santana, the current headliner at the Hard Rock.

But before all that, Las Vegas was a symbol for all that was uncool. Forty years ago this week, Elvis Presley opened a world of possibility, and then later destroyed it. 

Related Links

Elvis Presley on: eBay, Amazon


shakey leg (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 24, 2009report abuse
But let me also say this to add on to what "mofoca 22" said. The problem also was Elvis chose to keep the set/song list the same pretty much through out the 70's to where he was singing the same songs over & over, which is why I've chose to just only buy the live albums that was released during his life time and nothing else except those that was included on box sets, such as the unreleased live June '75 show in Dallas on the "Elvis Aron Presley" box set where he introduces his latest single at the time which was for "T-R-O-U-B-L-E", and the San Antonio show from April of '72 on the "Elvis Close Up" box set. Even the "Old Songs" as "Mofoca 22 had stated, was pretty much the same. Elvis was trying to grow up so to speak, but I don't think the fans let him. He was trying to move away from songs like "Hound Dog", "Love Me Tender", "Jailhouse Rock etc, but he couldn't. Those songs were nice for the "Comeback Special" 'cos he hadn't performed in years, so doing songs that people knew was a given, but after that Elvis was haunted buy 'em for the rest of his life. But it sure would've been nice to hear "Love Me, Love The Life I Lead" "Pieces Of My Life" etc. But, it was never meant to be I guess.
shakey leg (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 24, 2009report abuse
Well said Mofoca 22, I agree.
Mystery Rider (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 20, 2009report abuse
Elvis should have given more time to Himself and family instead of to his fans and Cling-ons he carried all those years. A Movie once a year more music with the nashville sound and 2 short engagements or a TV Special, but the clings had to be fed, and the Colonels bad habits had to be covered. Elvis didnt know how to say no.
hillbillycatlover (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 3, 2009report abuse
I agree with those that say give it a rest, the constant criticism that Elvis had to live with still goes on and on. Richard Abowitiz's tone is negative and overly critical of only the best entertainer and singer we have ever had ! Right, "It's easy for him...he doesn't have to face the crowd..."
Pachakuti! (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 3, 2009report abuse
I have to agree with MickeyN, Sitdown68 and benny scott. Though some good points are addressed, there's no need to talk about Elvis like that. He was still a remarkable singer near the end, albeit not doing as much physical rock 'n roll as in 1969. So all in all the reviewer is a bit harsh in his tone and I'd tell him: It's Easy For You!
benny scott (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 1, 2009report abuse
MickeyN and sitdown68 : amen to that ! Always El.
sitdown68 (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 1, 2009report abuse
unfortunately I never attended a presley concert. would have loved to, had he lived. but that's the facts. well, according to the repeated repertoire: look at dylan (been twice to a concert), compared some of the setlists of his neverending tour...he doen'nt do much different. he didn't while I was attending his concerts 99 and 05. so I guess this is a very common phenomena. he wouldn't have played different songs doing a world tour. so, the bad thing is the illnes, the addiction, I wonder why Ray Charles managed to get rid of it while Elvis did not. But, one is responsible for ones decisions...
Mofoca22 (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 1, 2009report abuse
vegas didnt kill elvis, its the touring that did it. at least in vegas elvis could actually settle down and enjoy himself before his friends and manager were turning on him. and blam can be directed at the fans. everytime he'd try something new the fans would shout for his old 50's classics. he made better music in my opinion from 1969 right till he died. but because everyone wanted him to sing the old stuff all the time the new stuff was always overlooked. i mean come on who wouldve loved to hear elvis sing love me, love the life i lead in concert? or other songs he done in the 70's like we can make the morning?
MickeyN (profilecontact) wrote on Aug 1, 2009report abuse
No, sorry, I don't think this is a good article. Elvis played over 1100 concerts in the last 7 years of his life (over 800 successive sell out gigs at the LV Hilton/International). It is always easy to find the odd forgotten lyric or rambling monologue, but the fact is Elvis played to sell out crowds who always left satisfied that they had seen something special. Just because Elvis did not try to be a forty year old teenage rebel does not mean he was a "parody". His music and his voice still retained a magical quality to the end - just listen to the power of "How Great Thou Art" in his last concert. "The door once shut by Presley's decay...", "The grave it became for Presley...", "The Curse of Elvis.." Give it a rest please.
Steve V (profilecontact) wrote on Jul 31, 2009report abuse
On target and I agree with most of it except when he states the Vegas sound was 'a sound he had a large hand in creating (compared with his produced studio work). Elvis had a huge hand in creating his early studio sound at least. Later on, maybe not so much. Anyway, good article and sad but true.
Monster (profilecontact) wrote on Jul 31, 2009report abuse
Very nice article, well considered and very well argued.

Misc.: 10 most recent articles


Recently Added Shop Items