I know where I was when I heard the news. I was home alone in a crappy little apartment when the news broke that Elvis Presley had died. Doing the math, I must have just turned 15. It was just about a year after my dad had died. I remember being shocked, really shocked. I had already lost my dad, and the reality of death was all too real.
Like so many fans, I felt I had a personal connection to Elvis. I really didn’t have one, but it seemed real enough at the time. I was actually young to be an Elvis fan, but my older sister was a huge fan, and my older brother had trained in karate (my brother was a black belt) under the same instructor as Elvis. At some point, my brother was supposed to meet Elvis but it didn’t happen, although I can’t remember why. Those factors really brought Elvis into my life.
When the news broke that Elvis had died, the moment froze in time for me. I was just now watching part of a Larry King special on Elvis, and I’m still amazed at the impact Elvis had. Yes, Elvis was incredibly talented, but he was also incredibly flawed. Maybe that’s what made him so interesting. Does that much talent, that big of a gift come with that bigger flaws? Bigger weaknesses? What is it about these people that thirty years later we can’t let them go? As flawed as Elvis was, he stood for something to a generation of people. It wasn’t just rebellion; it was that he cared and gave generously to people in need. He understood poverty, he rose to fame out of poverty and he spoke of the cost of poverty in songs like IN THE GHETTO.
Elvis wasn’t the only person whose death froze time for a moment. Think of John Lennon, do you know where you were when he died? I was at a friend’s house when the news broke that he’d been shot. It was unthinkable. John Lennon stood for peace, but he was killed by violence.
What about Princess Diana? I was home in the evening watching TV with my husband. At that time, it looked like she had been killed in a car accident caused by the press chasing her—huge irony. Even worse though is that the facts now suggest that a drunk driver and bad decisions killed her. Diana wasn’t wearing her seat belt. The most sought after woman in the world, with arguably the best security in the world, and she was killed by a drunk driver and no seat belt.
What killed Elvis? Drugs and poor choices. All that fame, all that money, all that power, all those fans, and none of it could ultimately ease the pain in Elvis. We tend to want to believe that money and privilege make everything okay, but the truth is that it doesn’t. Elvis and many others are examples of that.
My personal irony? In the end, drugs did in my very talented brother.
But back to the point: Where were you? If you don’t remember Elvis dying, who else froze time for you by their unexpected death? Why do you think some people are bigger than life that way?