The Untold Truth Of Elvis' Last Show

It wasn't supposed to be Elvis' final concert. The singer was only 42 years old and was scheduled to go on tour again shortly after his untimely passing. But a lifetime of fried, peanut butter, bacon, and banana sandwiches, accompanied by a decades-long cocktail of narcotics, brought the King's career to an unexpected end with his tragic death.

The last live show that Presley ever performed occurred in 1977. The day was June 26, a date that kept popping up in Elvis history. It was his manager, Colonel Tom Parker's, birthday (as far as anyone can tell — the guy was sketchy like an A-ha music video). Plus, according to Rolling Stone, Elvis was first called to the Sun Records office on June 26, 1954. Three years to the day after that, he spent his first night at Graceland. On June 26, 1979, Elvis' father died of heart failure. Coincidence? Yeah, probably, but don't let that stop your inner conspiracy theorist from itching like a man in a fuzzy tree.

On the night in question, Elvis was on the tail end of an arduous nine-day tour. His last concert would be performed for a packed crowd at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. Nearly 18,000 people attended, per the Indiana Historical Bureau, none realizing they were witnessing history.

"Elvis looks great and Elvis sounds great!"

For seven years, warm-up comedian Jackie Kahane held the unenviable responsibility of getting up on stage before the man known as "The King" took over. It was no easy job and he was even booed off the stage of New York City's Madison Square Garden for the audacity to be, well, not Elvis. Kahane's job as Elvis' opening act even dominated the first half of his obituary in The Los Angeles Times when the comedian died in 2001. In it, the Times describes how Kahane's set, formerly a tight 18 minutes, had stretched to nearly 45 as the years wore on and it took longer for Elvis to get into performance shape each night. 

That night in Indianapolis, Kahane announced to the crowd "Elvis looks great and Elvis sounds great!," according to a review of the show in The Indianapolis Star. A comedian, maybe, but no prophet. Nevertheless, as Kahane left the stage that night, few could have predicted things would come to an end quite so abruptly. 

Elvis still drew a crowd

$15 tickets to see Elvis Presley perform for the last time? Well, they were still available the evening before the concert, per the Indiana History Blog (or just over $65 now adjusted for inflation). Still, quite the bargain for an up-close look at one of the era's defining (if faded) stars. 

Aside from Kahane, that evening's opening acts included a brass band and some soul singers. In fact, those openers performed for almost an hour and a half before fans would catch sight of the man they'd been waiting for. The Indianapolis Star noted that for the Monday evening performance, Elvis had donned the now-iconic white and gold jumpsuit, maybe to better facilitate the dance moves that still drove the audience wild. Of particular note to the reviewer, Elvis had limited his karate moves that evening but nevertheless bounded on stage to kick off the show with a rendition of "C.C. Rider" and still threw in a few of his signature leg jerks from his early days. 

For fans, it was a remarkable performance — especially given how difficult 1977 had been thus far for the King. According to Far Out Magazine, Elvis had broken up with a long-term girlfriend, immediately became involved with a new woman, and was so out of it during some earlier performances, journalist Tony Scherman recounted how he'd been nearly "impossible to understand" at an earlier show in Louisiana. Despite that, the King rallied that evening in June — if only briefly. 

The King's final decree

Critical reception for Elvis' final show was decidedly mixed. On the negative side, there was Zack Duncan's review, which called the concert "tacky and outdated," the lighting "adequate," and the extensive use of warm-up acts "fluff." He claimed that announcements were made over the PA three times throughout the concert, reminding folks to check out the merch stand and even reading off price tags on available souvenirs. There were also more positive reviews, like the one in The Indianapolis Star, which spent a significant amount of time pointing out that Elvis wasn't as fat as he could have been.

Over the course of a three-hour concert, Elvis spent just an hour and twenty minutes on stage, performing old standards as well as new numbers, including a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." At the end of the show, Presley brought his father on stage to wave to the crowd, sang "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You," said "We'll meet you again, God bless, adios," and left the building.