One afternoon upstairs in Elvis’ bedroom at Graceland, he and I were talking about his mother’s passing in 1958. It was the most turbulent, disoriented and confusing time in his life: drafted into the Army, leaving the career that had exploded two years earlier, uncertain what the future would bring.
“Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything was just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way, the Army calls me. My career came to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, my records, everything. To tell you the truth I actually thought that nobody would remember me after I served my time, that I’d be some kind of flash–in–the pan. You know, people would say, “hey, remember that guy, the one that used to shake his body, what’s his name?”
Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head incredulously. “Can you imagine that, Larry, my hair? Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, my mom suddenly died! My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go to…man, no matter what. That’s a blow you can never really get over.”
“But no matter what happened and all that, I’m glad I served my country, Larry. I love America; where else can you dream the impossible dream? Believe me, no one knows better than I do. I’ve lived that dream. My mom kept tellin’ me, even when we had nothing, that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I tried hard enough.”
“And I’ll tell you this Larry; I didn’t have to go into the army like the way all the other guys did. They told me that if I wanted to I could be in a special service unit; you know, represent the army and tour the other bases around the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing. I didn’t even have to think about it. I flat turned their offer down. I didn’t want to be treated special or anything like that; I just wanted to let everyone know that I was just like every other guy.”
Elvis had a strong sense of history and was proud of his Southerner’s traditional love of country. He drew his energy and strength from the American soil and its people. “Sure, America’s not perfect, but it’s the best hope we have for this world. I mean, who else is as free as we are? People will do anything to get here; some even die. America represents hope for this world. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud that I served my country.”
Elvis lived the American dream. He rose from the most desperate poverty to unprecedented fame and fortune. He also embodied the American spirit; he was optimistic, brash, daring and certainly a pioneer. Just like America, Elvis embraced everyone; whether it was a President, an office worker or a janitor, everyone was treated equally by him.
After all these years Elvis still inspires and touches millions of lives around the world. Many who weren’t even born when he left us. Elvis’ image, his music and the force of his personality continue as a vibrant, living presence.
Elvis goes beyond being a legend; he’s an historic icon. Yet one of the great ironies of his extraordinary life can be revealed in a comment he once made, “I wonder,” he said quietly…”I wonder if I’ll ever be remembered?”
I think it’s safe to say that we all remember him, and love him for the great human being he was – uniquely American, yet belonging to the world.