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38 Years Ago: Elvis Presley Dies

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One of the most shocking events in the history of 20th-century popular music occurred on Aug. 16, 1977, when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, was found dead at his Memphis home, Graceland. He was 42.

The official cause of death, according to Shelby County medical examiner Jerry Francisco, was “cardiac arrhythmia due to undetermined heartbeat.” But the autopsy revealed significant damage to all the major internal organs, and the toxicity report two months later detected 14 drugs in his body, with 10 being at dangerously high levels.

It’s safe to say that, without Elvis Presley, this website wouldn’t exist. Either directly or indirectly, he influenced every single artist that is regularly covered here at Ultimate Classic Rock. From the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Bruce Springsteen and beyond, they all owe more than a passing debt to Elvis Presley.

While he didn’t invent rock music, he quickly became the single embodiment of the fledgling genre, both as an idol for his fans and a lightning rod for the ensuing controversies brought on by his sexualized stage presence and the mixing of white and African-American cultures.

Sixty years after he first walked into Sun Studio, his impact is still being felt today, both musically — in the likes of retro-minded acts like JD McPherson — and culturally. Every time a celebrity’s new haircut makes national news, Elvis was there first. Every time a rock star tries to make the jump into films, Elvis was there first. Every time swarms of teenage girls swoon over the latest teen pop star, Elvis was there first. Every time parents complain about rock music being responsible for a decline in traditional values, Elvis was there first.

So at some point today, break out your favorite Elvis compilation (or watch the 1968 “Comeback Special”), eat a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich and raise a glass of Dr Pepper (his favorite) in recognition of his incredible legacy.

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