A veteran London-based journalist rehearses the rise and fall of Elvis Presley (1935-1977).
Connolly (The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive, 2016, etc.), who interviewed Presley while working for the London Evening Standard, is a fan as well as a stout critic, and his work is full of praise for his subject’s musicianship, voice, and work ethic. But the author is unblinking about the myriads of problems that Elvis faced, and created, throughout his career: his serial sexual infidelities, his wild spending, his failures as a friend, and, of course, his increasing reliance on drugs and his inability to defeat his demons. Near the end, we see an angry, paranoid man, offering himself as a federal drug agent to serve President Richard Nixon, carrying multiple firearms, and winging all over the country in search of peace. Connolly follows a conventional biographical path from Elvis’ impoverished birth in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his seclusion and death behind the gates of Graceland in Memphis. The author also focuses on his multiple musical talents, his determination to broaden his musical appeal, his influence on many musicians who followed him. There is a sad scene at Graceland when the Beatles—the latest superstars—arrive to pay homage. We see Elvis’ social awkwardness and the Beatles’ playfulness, and we yearn for a recording of the music they played together. Connolly also keeps us in touch with Elvis’ family—and his devotion to them—and to the relationship between Presley and his long-term manager, Col. Tom Parker, whose self-destructive gambling habits are astonishing. Parker would never let Elvis tour abroad, an odd insistence that cost them all millions in lost revenue. The author illuminates, as well, the many forgettable Presley films, his final years in Las Vegas, and the brutal touring schedule that ground him down.
Connolly carefully and sympathetically paints the many faces of Presley, faces eventually shrouded in despair.