What Elvis' Last Christmas Was Like

Elvis Presley loved Christmas, especially at his legendary Graceland ranch, where he lived for the last two decades of his life. The sprawling home in Memphis, Tennesse was home to Presley and his family, which for many years included his father, Vernon, Vernon's second wife as well as her three young sons, and Presley's wife, Priscilla, and their daughter Lisa Marie — that is, until Elvis and Priscilla's divorce in 1973. The property also housed various members of the King's extended family, and was frequented by assistants and bodyguards known as the "Memphis Mafia." At Christmas, the home became a festive paradise, with luxurious decorations, countless luxury gifts for Presley's nearest and dearest, and vast quantities of food and drink. The children in the family, especially Presley's young step-brothers, his cousins, and his daughter, all remembered Christmas at Graceland as a magical time of the year.

Sadly, Presley's life unraveled during the 1970s, until he was found dead in his bathroom on August 16, 1977, having experienced a fatal attack of cardiac arrhythmia, according to his autopsy report. The attack, however, was precipitated by a growing prescription drug dependency that began to take a toll on his mental health and impact his live performances.

Christmas commitments

It was obvious to many of those close to Elvis Presley in the final years of his life that his health had been in dramatic decline throughout the 1970s. His diet, which consisted of high-cholesterol snacks such as hamburgers and, famously, fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches which he would consume to excess, began to affect him physically to the point where he would appear onstage a bloated version of his former self, which his audiences found shocking. In "The Ultimate Elvis: Elvis Presley Day By Day," Patricia Jobe Pierce claims that while Presley was still capable of attracting appreciative audiences, but 1976 many of those who bought tickets did so to witness Presley's troubling transformation. 

Questions were also being asked about Presley's private life, particularly his rumored addiction to prescription drugs, particularly opioids. Presley took to denying such rumors on stage, though the fact was that the addiction that was obvious to his friends and family would later become evidence during his concerts when a confused Presley would struggle to remember lyrics to even his most familiar songs. 

In early December, Presley found himself facing a daunting 15-date residency in Las Vegas, a city in which he performed often in his final years. Per the same source, the concerts went smoothly despite Presley's health problems, with the King fighting through physical pain to deliver shows that received numerous standing ovations. Presley also had a new fiancee at the time, Ginger Alden, who came to visit Presley in Vegas with her family. Presley's reportedly showered the Aldens with numerous gifts on their visit. Little did they know that the King was in crisis.

Festive fear and loathing

Patricia Jobe Pierce's "The Ultimate Elvis" notes that though Elvis Presley's favorite time of year was fast approaching, toward the end of his Las Vegas residency the King of Rock 'n' Roll was desperately miserable. "I feel so alone sometimes," Presley wrote on December 7 on a piece of paper found in the trash by a maid. "The night is quiet for me. I would love to be able to sleep. I am glad everyone is gone now. I will probably not rest tonight. I have no need for all of this. Help me, Lord."

As the biographer Peter Guralnick notes in "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley," the King was growing paranoid concerning his entourage, many of whom he suspected of being hangers-on who were only close to him for his money. In December 1975, his fears manifested in a nightmare in which he lost his fortune and the people in his life walked out on him. Nevertheless, Presley's famous generosity remained. Some of his final Christmas gifts included more than $50,000 in charitable donations and numerous cars to strangers and friends. By December 27, Presley was performing nightly again, and looking down the barrel of a grueling concert schedule for 1977 which he would tragically not see out.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357)