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Culture Re-View: The 'King' takes his final bow

Elvis in happier times - seen here playing guitar in a scene from the documentary film Elvis: That's the Way It Is
Elvis in happier times - seen here playing guitar in a scene from the documentary film Elvis: That's the Way It Is Copyright Getty/Bettmann Archive
Copyright Getty/Bettmann Archive
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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On June 26th, 1977, the world witnessed a bittersweet moment in music history as Elvis Presley, often hailed as the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ took to the stage for his final performance in Indianapolis.


Throughout his three-decade-long career, Elvis Presley captivated audiences with his unique blend of charisma, talent and dance moves topped off with an unforgettable voice.

The show at the Market Square Arena in the Indiana state capital on 26 June, 1977, would mark the end of an era, leaving an indelible mark on both fans and the music industry as a whole. He would die less than two months later at the age of just 42.

Presley was due to start a 12-date tour the day after his death on 16 August, 1977. That year, he had already played 55 dates having to cancel four shows in March and April after being admitted to hospital with symptoms of intestinal flu.

The 'King' performs in Rhode Island a month before his last ever show, 1977AP1997

In Indianapolis though, despite his declining health and numerous personal struggles, the legendary performer was determined to deliver a memorable experience to his devoted fans. Nearly 18,000 of them saw him perform at the Market Square Arena and the venue was charged with anticipation and excitement.

As Elvis took the stage, the crowd erupted into thunderous applause, overwhelming him with love and admiration. Clad in his signature spangled jumpsuit, he exuded the same magnetism and charm that had propelled him to stardom. Despite his physical decline, Elvis's vocal prowess remained intact, and his performance was hailed by fans as filled with a raw, heartfelt energy.

The setlist featured a mix of his greatest hits, including ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Jailhouse Rock' and ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, which resonated deeply with the audience. The press covering the concert were less enthusiastic, though. 

One scathing review in Indianapolis News said, “Elvis Presley led another crowd of screamers in bananaland last night during his concert at Market Square Area and the question is why. He obviously doesn’t need the money. He apparently doesn’t care about the way his concerts are packaged either”.

A fan takes a photograph of Elvis Presley's last guitar he played live in concert, on display now in Phoenix, AZ, 2011AP2011

In retrospect, it could be said that the ‘King’ was simply too unwell to play a universally appreciated show.

On August 16, 1977, Presley was scheduled to fly from his home in Memphis to Maine to begin another tour. That afternoon, however, he was found in an unresponsive state at his Graceland mansion.

Attempts to revive him failed, and he was pronounced dead at Baptist Memorial Hospital later that day. The official cause was said to be a heart attack although Presley had a widely known reliance on prescription drugs and a poor diet.

Elvis' grave, a pilgrimage site for countless fans, pictured in 2010AP

Such was his impact that the then-President Jimmy Carter issued a statement crediting Presley with having "permanently changed the face of American popular culture".

Thousands of people gathered outside Graceland to view the late superstar’s open casket and his legacy as a true musical icon lives on.

Nearly 46 years later, his music and legend still has a profound effect on his fans and his genre-crossing songs continue to inspire countless musicians. Thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Graceland every year and many watch his last performance in Indianapolis to remember how great he truly was.

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