Music History

Next Week, Elvis Will Have Been Dead 40 Years. Let’s Take a Look Back.

Everyone has those “I remember where I was when I heard the news” moments. For some inexplicable reason, I vividly remember where I was when I heard the news that Elvis Presley had died that sunny Wednesday afternoon in August 1977. (Driving westbound with my dad on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg near the intersection of Erin Street. How’s that for specific?)

Wednesday will be 40 years since Elvis toppled over on his toilet at Graceland at age 42. Time takes this look back.

Considering the source, it was a startling claim. A longtime lieutenant of TIME and LIFE founder Henry Luce, journalist Richard Clurman found himself chatting one day in the late 1960s with Leonard Bernstein, the legendary composer and conductor of the New York Philharmonic. “Elvis Presley,” Bernstein said, “is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century.” Taken aback, Clurman, who recounted the exchange to the writer David Halberstam, offered an alternative.

“What about Picasso?” Clurman ventured.

“No, it’s Elvis,” Bernstein insisted. “He introduced the beat to everything and he changed everything–music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution–the ’60s come from it.”

As does so much else.

Read on.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37439 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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