Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. The King of Rock and Roll suffered a cardiac arrest at his home, Graceland, in the early hours of the morning. A year before the 42-year-old met his untimely death, he had a chance encounter with one of the newcomers to the pop industry: Elton John. However, Elton was shocked by the sight of the star.
Elton begrudgingly explained how meeting Elvis – one of his idols – was soured by the state he was in. At the time, Elvis was addicted to prescription drugs and had gained a lot of weight. He would breathlessly get through concerts every night in Las Vegas residency shows and carry around a towel to wipe the sweat from his body.
Elton met Elvis just before he went on stage one night. Author Tom Doyle recalled the event in his book Captain Fantastic. He wrote: “It was sad. Elton looked into the eyes of the King and felt there was ‘nothing there’.”
Elton even went on to describe the star as someone who was looking extremely unwell and vacant.
Elton looked back on the look he received from Elvis when he requested that he play a certain song during his upcoming gig. He asked the King to play Heartbreak Hotel during the concert – but he refused. There was apparently no way he could alter his setlist.
Elton said: “It was someone who was in a complete drug haze giving nylon scarves away to these fans. And yet it was still, in a way, magical.”
In another interview – this time with Oprah Winfrey in 1996 – Elton said: “It was so sad because he turned into this big man with no eyes. They had sunk into the back of his head, and it was pathetic.”
The Rocket Man singer then revealed that this meeting with a dishevelled Elvis was actually a turning point for his own struggles with addiction.
Elton later revealed: “In the end, there are pictures of me… when I look at them I think, oh my god: You turned into Elvis! You shut your door, you gained weight, you did this, you did that, and you didn’t care how you were. It’s very easy to do that.”
After seeing Elvis in the state he was in, Elton decided he “didn’t want to end up like that”. He said: “I knew he would be dead in a year if he carried on like that – and he was.”
Elton explained that he “knew” he had a problem with addiction and added that “your pride will kill you”. After that, he sought help and got sober.
Seeing Elvis as such a critical moment was likely even more powerful for Elton considering how much he worshipped him as a child.
Elton once recalled: “My mum always used to buy a record every Friday. She came home, and she had the 78 of Elvis Presley, and she said: ‘I heard this in the record shop, and I’ve never heard anything like it!’ She played it to me, and I’d never heard anything like it either.”
He added: “It was weird because, about ten days before, I’d had my hair cut in the local barbers, where I went as a little boy, and I’d noticed a Life magazine. I was reading this article on a man who looked like an alien but was so handsome – I’d never seen anything like him, and I put two and two together and said: ‘That was the man I saw in the magazine!’ So that was the record that really changed everything.”