The Death of a King


The king died 39 years ago today. It hardly seems possible. On August 16, 1977, music icon Elvis Presley died in Memphis at age 42. The death of the king of rock and roll brought legions of mourning fans to Graceland, his mansion in Memphis. Doctors said he died of a heart attack, likely brought on by his addiction to prescription barbiturates.

Elvis’ record “Heartbreak Hotel” made him a national sensation in early 1956. He followed up with the double-sided hit record “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” In September of 1956, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, and teenagers went into hysterics over his dynamic stage presence, good looks, and simple but catchy songs. Presley continued to dominate the music charts and film screens into the 1970s. Presley is buried on the grounds of Graceland, which continues to attract fans and has been turned into a highly successful tourist attraction.

The lesson of Elvis Presley is two-fold. First, we want a king we can see. Presley was on TV, the radio, and in the movie theaters. We grew up with him. He was accessible and obvious. He was someone we could get close to at his concerts. We felt we knew him. He was real. The prophet Elijah lived in a day when people bowed to any god they could see. We have not changed since. Millions would rather worship the king they could see than the King they cannot see.

Second, all mortal kings face the same future. They all die. If he was still with us today, Elvis would be 81 years old. But whether he died of drug overdose, cancer, or other natural causes, he was destined to die. And therein lies the difference between the king and the King. Jesus died, but his grave could not hold him. As for Elvis, where he was buried 39 years ago, you can still find him today.


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