A Carlton University journalism professor named Randy Boswell has solved the 60 year mystery behind Elvis Presley’s first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel”. This song catapulted Elvis into international stardom, helped fuel the rock n’ roll revolution, and inspired future musicians to become rock stars.
“The story behind the song’s genesis is legend, repeated thousands of times in newspapers, magazines, books, blogs and documentaries,” says Boswell. “Florida songwriters Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton always claimed that the creative spark was a 1955 Miami Herald article about an unidentified man’s suicide and the one-line note he’d left behind: ‘I walk a lonely street.’ That spawned ‘down at the end of Lonely Street,’ the signature lyric and idea behind Heartbreak Hotel”.
However, the supposed suicide victim has never been identified and the Herald article never found, therefore causing the story behind the song one of the biggest mysteries in rock history.
Searching databases of historical newspapers, Boswell examined digital archives of southern US press from the summer and fall of 1955 when Durden and Axton wrote the song. Through this exploration, he uncovered the story of Alvin Krolik, an aspiring artist and author from Chicago. Krolik did not die by suicide, however. He was shot to death in August 1955 when he tried to rob a liquor store in Texas.
Most importantly, a reporter covering the shooting caught the words Krolik once used to describe his life: “this is the story of a person who walked a lonely street”. This evocative phrase, “walked a lonely street”, showed up in headlines and in news stories across the south-eastern US, coming to Durden and Axton’s attention in northern Florida just before they wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” in September 1955.
In real life, Krolik’s eventual life of crime and death followed heartbreak over a failed marriage to a Chicago nightclub musician named Agnes Sampson.
“In the end, the real-life story of Alvin Krolik has more misery and tragedy even than the gloomy scene Elvis painted in Heartbreak Hotel,” said Boswell. “Krolik truly is the broken-hearted lover behind the song that shook the world”.
Boswell’s research was published in Rolling Stone.