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Elvis Week 2000: What If He Had Lived?

Veteran Presley sidemen Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana among attendees imagining a 65-year-old Elvis.

Contributing Editor RW Deutsch reports:

[ Tues., August 15, 2000 6:33 PM EDT ]

[Editor's Note: Elvis Week 2000 marks the 23rd anniversary of the passing of the King of Rock 'n' Roll. The week surrounding Aug. 16 has evolved into an annual festival in Memphis, where thousands of Elvis fans converge to celebrate his life and music. Sonicnet.com will be in Memphis all week to report on this unique memorial.]

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Jan. 8, Elvis Presley would have turned 65, and for friends, fans and fellow musicians who flocked to Graceland this week in his honor, there's a question that lingers: What if he had lived?

"Well, he'd definitely be getting his Social Security," said his first guitarist, Scotty Moore, who was at Elvis' side at those early Sun Records sessions and live shows. It is Moore's guitar you hear on such classics as "Hound Dog" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Don't Be Cruel" (RealAudio excerpt). "But seriously, I could see him becoming a preacher."

Guitarist Scotty Moore, shown here at an autograph booth in Memphis, played on Elvis' early hit records.

Photo by RW Deutsch

"He'd be a damn good one," added drummer D.J. Fontana, who was with Elvis from 1955 to 1969.

"Elvis was very vain, you know," Moore added. "It would have been hard for him to age gracefully."

Singer Ronnie McDowell, who has been headlining a Tribute to Elvis show at the Horseshoe Casino's Bluesville Nightclub in Tunica, Miss., along with Moore, Fontana and Elvis backup singers the Jordanaires, disagreed. "I'd say he'd look a lot like Vernon [Elvis' father], who was very handsome."

McDowell added that he could have seen Elvis doing shows with Led Zeppelin or Bruce Springsteen.

"I think he'd be doing ballads," Fontana said.

Early in his career Elvis had a tough experience at the Grand Ole Opry, where he and his music were not received well. As to whether he'd ever return there today, Fontana didn't think so.

"With all his money," Moore laughed, "he'd a probably bought it!"

"I'll tell you one thing," Fontana roared, "he'd be on Viagra like the rest of us!"

Everybody Has An Opinion

Outside of Graceland, fans such as 18-year-old Jordan Ritchie of Tennessee said he'd be continuing exactly what he'd been doing "but he probably would have calmed down a little."

Mike Freeman, author of two books on Elvis with his wife, Cindy Hazen, thought Elvis would have focused more on country music but noted that "he always defied labels, he couldn't be compared with anyone."

Hazen hazarded to guess Elvis would be gigging at the casinos in nearby Tunica. "He'd have the same audience. He would be doing whatever was contemporary — he had a knack for doing that."

But "the business today is so restricted, it's hard to imagine him being as big of a star today," Freeman added.

"He'd be a very handsome man," crooned Elvis fan Susan Theresa Satafora, 60, from Chicago. "He'd play the best of everything, especially gospel."

Monica Nielsen, 25, of Norway also felt he would be singing gospel but wouldn't have been as much of a legend if he had lived. "But he'd still have his fans."

Pat Jones, 62, of Memphis is president of the Elvis the King Forever Fan Club. She envisioned a dignified elder Elvis. "He'd be a country gentleman, retired from singing but still as popular as ever."

The Vegas Elvis

"I could see him like Tom Jones or Kenny Rogers," said Brian Bitchatchi, 36, of New York. Tom Jones also was mentioned by 27-year-old Memphis Elvis impersonator Crazy Lee. Both also agreed he'd still be rockin'.

Barry Davis, 40, of Cleveland took a darker look. "With all the drugs he was doing, I doubt he'd have made it anyways."

"He'd be one of those televangelists," Chaz Labrocque, 35, of Los Angeles said. "He'd have his own 24-hour network."

"I can't imagine him having the same impact today if he'd have lived," Floridian Peter Erlichman, 47, noted. "Look at those who are still around — Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis — there's definitely something to be said about that old phrase 'live fast, live hard and die young.' Of course Elvis wasn't that young when he died, but he got out before the nostalgia craze started. All that's left now is the image."

Longtime Elvis friend and current Memphis Music Commissioner Jerry Schilling said Elvis was so unpredictable when he was alive it's hard for him to speculate.

"I suppose he'd have been like the Sinatra of the day," Schilling said. "But he'd also hopefully be doing some incredible acting roles which he had been pushing for. Outside of the earlier films, he never got a script to challenge him."

Because of studio pressures and Colonel Parker's Hollywood agenda, Elvis made more than 30 mostly forgettable films that left him hugely disappointed, Schilling said, in what Elvis had hoped would have been a successful and serious motion picture career.

"You could say we lost Elvis over his creative disappointment which led to his unhappiness," Schilling said. "He really wanted to be a serious actor."

"We'll never really know, will we?" shrugged Bill Hernandez, 42, of Texas, as he grabbed a handful of Elvis pens and made his way to stand in line at Graceland's gift store.