Is Elvis Alive? Sightings, Stories & King-Sized Conspiracy Theories

Icons | August 16, 2019

Left: Elvis Presley in concert circa 1977. Right: Detail of an image purported to be a high-resolution scan of the 'pool house photo' from 1977. Soures: R.D/Images Press/Getty Images; thepresleyassignment.com

On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died -- or did he? Almost immediately, the phenomenon of "Elvis sightings" went viral (by '70s standards), with rumors and tabloid cover stories offering "proof" that the King wasn't gone. 

The 42-year-old King of Rock 'n Roll passed away in the master bathroom in his home in Graceland, leaving a generation of fans and admirers in disbelief. Elvis had suffered a clear physical decline in the '70s, but still -- dead at 42? It was hard to accept that a combination of poor diet and drug addiction had taken down the icon. And in fact, some people didn't accept it; to this day, there are people all over the world who believe that Elvis didn’t die, he just had a change of address.

At the time of his death Elvis was back on top thanks to a residency in Las Vegas and a couple of adult contemporary hits in 1975 and 1976, but Elvis-truthers think the King wanted out. He was tired of the fame and hangers on, and most of all tired of being Elvis. What really happened on that fateful summer day in ’77? Did Elvis go to that big honky tonk in the sky, or did he escape Graceland to live the quiet life? Either way, Elvis has left the building. 

The Last Days Of Elvis

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It’s clear from looking at Elvis that he wasn’t the healthiest rock star on the planet. He was suffering from health issues and he was in obvious decline. The King was falling apart in front of everyone but he continued to record albums that sold well and he performed more shows at this point in his career that he did at his peak. It’s as if he realized that an end was coming and he wanted to give the people what they wanted, even if he was nowhere near the Elvis that people remembered.

During his final years Elvis kept multiple doctors on call so he could get whatever he needed whether he was in Memphis, Las Vegas, or Los Angeles. His Vegas doctor was nicknamed “Flash” because of his ability to arrive quickly with whatever the singer needed. The King even sent his private plane, the Lisa Marie, to pick up drugs for him and bring them back to Memphis.

At the same time Elvis’ weight was ballooning from his numerous attempts to return to his trim looks of the 1950s. Sometimes he ate massive 8,000 calorie sandwiches, and in order to counteract that he tried to starve himself to get then. The combination of the terrible diet and his intense drug addiction was killing Elvis in plain view of every one of his friends and fans. 

Elvis Was Unrecognizable On The Day He Passed Away

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Presley was scheduled to leave for tour on August 16, 1977, but that afternoon he was discovered, unresponsive, on the toilet in his master bathroom by his then fiancé Ginger Alden. She later wrote:

Elvis looked as if his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position while using the commode and then had fallen forward, in that fixed position, directly in front of it. [...] It was clear that, from the time whatever hit him to the moment he had landed on the floor, Elvis hadn't moved.

When paramedic Ulysses Jones arrived on the scene he noted that Elvis didn’t really look like Elvis, but rather an old man who was nearly black from livor mortis, or when blood pools up in the body. In 1977 Jones told the Memphis Press-Scimitar:

From his shoulders up, his skin was dark blue. Around his neck, which seemed fat and bloated, was a very large gold medallion. His sideburns were gray.

Hospital Authorities Completely Bungled Elvis' Medical Reports

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Most Elvis conspiracy theories can be traced back to the coroner’s report and the autopsy. Maurice Elliott, Baptist Memorial Hospital’s vice president, realized that he needed to present an answer to journalists and fans who started popping up shortly after the news got out that Elvis was in the hospital. Presley was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. from heart failure, although Elliot promised a full report on the singer’s death later that evening.

Rather than announce that Presley passed away from a series of compounding issues including drug use and general poor heath it was announced that he simply passed from heart failure. One hospital official said:

There are several cardiovascular diseases that are known to be present. One is a mild degree of hypertension that had been under treatment for some time, and that there was hardening of the arteries, the coronary arteries of the heart, known as coronary atherosclerosis.

The medical examiner’s official cause of death was “hypertensive heart disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease,” and Presley was described as having “the arteries of an 80-year-old man.” However, one piece of information that wasn’t reported to the press was that Presley had at least 10 different drugs in his system. Because reports about Presley’s death were all over the place, fans believed that either the medical staff didn’t know what killed The King, or that there was a cover up occurring in real time. Per Tennessee law Elvis’s death certificate will remain locked until 2027, so until then all we have to go off is the word of the Baptist Memorial Hospital staff. 

Presley’s Funeral Gave Conspiracy Theorists Something To Talk About

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As if the botched medical report wasn’t enough to start the “Elvis Lives” machinations, his funeral service on August 18, 1977 had enough oddities to inspire a legion of conspiracy theorists. True believers think that Presley’s 900-pound copper coffin was so heavy because it held a cooling system in order to keep a wax dummy from melting. Rather than bury Presley (who in this theory was very much alive on the day of his funeral), friends of The King buried a lookalike dummy complete with sideburns and hands that were too smooth. Presley’s cousin Gene Smith claimed:

His nose looked kinda puggy-looking, and his right sideburn was sticking straight out—it looked about an inch. And his hairline looked like a hairpiece or something was glued on.

The oddly plasticine Presley wasn’t the only thing wrong with The King’s funeral, his headstone was inscribed with the name “Elvis Aaron Presley” in spite of the fact that he was given the middle name “Aron.” It’s believed that Presley thought it was too creepy to use his actual name on his headstone so he opted for the double-A spelling, and some suspicious minds believe that the misspelling was a message to real fans that their hunk of burning love was still out there. As fun as that sounds, Presley had taken to spelling out his signature with two As by the end of his life. 

Early Evidence: The Pool House Photo

According to The Presley Assignment, this is a high-quality scan of the infamous 'pool house photo' taken by Mike Joseph on December 31, 1977. Source: thepresleyassignment.com

Like Fox Mulder with the UFOs, Elvis fans and conspiracy-mongers wanted to believe the King was alive -- and soon enough they got what looked like "proof." A tourist named Mike Joseph, while visiting Graceland on December 31, 1977, snapped a shot that included the property's pool house, and right there on the other side of the screen door was someone who happened to look a lot like Elvis. The resemblance was really quite striking, and this was in the days before Photoshop. Experts from Kodak were consulted, and reportedly they found that the photo had not been doctored at all. So was this Elvis?

When interviewer Larry King asked him about the picture, Elvis' former road manager and friend Joe Esposito said no, it wasn't Presley, and offered that it was probably Al Strada, an Elvis associate. Some people, including the photographer himself, accepted this explanation. Others didn't.

The King Is Alive And Well And Living In Kalamazoo

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In 1988 one of the first real Elvis sightings occurred in the town of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Local woman Louise Welling claims that she was shopping at the Felpausch supermarket when she saw none other but the King standing the shopping center’s second lane waiting to buy an electrical fuse. How did Welling know it was Elvis? Easy, he was wearing a white jumpsuit, how else would Elvis be dressed? At an unlisted time after Welling’s daughter saw the same man eating Whoppers at Burger King. As strange as this sounds, apparently Elvis really loved Burger King.

The only paper that printed Mrs. Welling’s story was the Weekly World News, which published the claim under the title “Elvis is Alive!” After the story broke radio DJs from across the country called Felpausch’s to interview the clerks. Mayor Ed Annen told the New York Times, “I told [reporters] that everyone knows this is where he lives and that they should send their residents here to spend tourist dollars to find him.” 

Presley Didn’t Die, He Entered The Witness Protection Program

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Even though it sent his fans to the Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis had to fake his death and go underground in order to keep from getting iced by the mob. Gail Brewer-Giorgio, author of Is Elvis Alive told Time that after reviewing a series of FBI documents that she realized that Presley was working as an undercover agent for the Bureau in order to help them put away members of a racketeering group called “The Fraternity” in 1976. 

Brewer-Giorgio claims that Presley first became aware of “The Fraternity” while selling an airplane and that the Bureau asked him to work as a mole inside the group. Once he was discovered it was curtains for the singer and he had to be placed in the witness protection program.

While there’s no evidence that Presley aided the FBI in any of their investigations, the FBI does have more than 760 files on the singer ranging from 1956 to 1980. Most of the files detail extortion cases surrounding Elvis, and a visit he made to FBI headquarters where he offered the bureau his “services in any way.” While speaking with Time Brewer-Giorgio admitted, “Do I know if Elvis is alive today? No, I don’t know. But I know he didn’t die on August 16.”

The 'Weekly World News' Killed Elvis… In 2009

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The one paper that ran the truth about Elvis throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s also had the sad job of reporting about his actual death in 2009. The saga of Presley’s final years begins in May 2005 when Weekly World News was the first news outlet to report that Elvis was planning a 2008 presidential run. Presley revealed to WWN that in order to get out of the country in 1977 he was shipped in a crate to Australia where he spent the next three decades working with missionaries in the Outback. He then claimed that he was picking Jim Morrison as his running mate.

The King never ran for president in 2008, and unfortunately a year later the Weekly World News reported that Presley passed away from a car accident in Las Vegas. It wasn’t initially clear who the deceased was, but the WWN reported that the driver was “an obese male in his mid-seventies, dressed in a rhinestone jumpsuit and wearing a bouffant hairpiece.”

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Conspiracy Theories | Elvis Presley | Hoaxes | Rare Facts And Stories About History | RIP (Famous Deaths)

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.