Suspicious Minds: The Bizarre, 40-Year History of Elvis Presley Sightings

Getty Images
Getty Images

On August 16, 1977, something momentous happened in Memphis, Tennessee. It was either the death of Elvis Presley at the age of 42, as more than 80 percent of Americans believe, or the start of the most spectacular disappearing act in the history of mankind.

"Elvis is alive” theories are as varied as they are plentiful, and they’ve been circulating since just after his death. He’s left the realm of popular entertainers and joined the ranks of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and to some, Jesus. What follows is a brief history of why some people refuse to let this American icon rest in peace.

THE FIRST SIGHTING

On the afternoon of August 16, 1977, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Elvis is said to have purchased a one-way ticket from Memphis International Airport to Buenos Aires. He supposedly gave the name Jon Burrows, a pseudonym Elvis used when checking into hotels. Patrick Lacy, author of the book Elvis Decoded, claims to have debunked this popular and wholly unsubstantiated story by interviewing airport officials and determining that international flights weren’t available from Memphis in 1977. There’s also the question of why the most famous man on the planet would risk going into a public place in his hometown in order to book airfare for the purpose of faking his own death. Maybe Elvis figured his acting skills would help him avoid suspicion.

THE FUNERAL

A great deal of “Elvis is alive” intrigue centers on August 18, 1977, the day of Presley's funeral. Footage of the service shows pallbearers struggling to lift a 900-pound copper coffin. The King had packed on a few pounds in his later years, but there’s no way he was pushing a half-ton. One explanation: The casket was outfitted with a cooling system—the kind you’d use to keep a wax dummy of a beloved celebrity from melting on a hot summer day. Sound crazy? Presley’s cousin Gene Smith thought the body looked a little strange. “His nose looked kinda puggy-looking, and his right sideburn was sticking straight out—it looked about an inch,” Smith said in the 1991 special The Elvis Files. “And his hairline looked like a hairpiece or something was glued on.” Smith was also troubled by the smoothness of Presley’s typically calloused hands and the sweat on his brow.

Attentive fans were further spooked when they saw the King’s headstone. The inscription reads “Elvis Aaron Presley,” even though he’d been given the middle name “Aron,” possibly in memory of his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon. The theory here is that Elvis used the incorrect spelling to signal fans that he was still alive. Another one of Elvis’s cousins, Billy Smith, claimed the singer simply preferred the more common double-A spelling, as legal documents bearing Presley’s signature attest.

THE DEATH ITSELF

Traditionally, you can’t have a funeral without a death, and what killed the King is another major source of controversy. The medical examiner’s official cause of death was “hypertensive heart disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease.” Elvis weighed at least 250 pounds in his final days, and one Baptist Memorial Hospital staffer told Rolling Stone, he had “the arteries of an 80-year-old man.” So a massive heart attack isn’t exactly far-fetched. But toxicologists found more than 10 drugs in Presley’s system, fueling speculation that “polypharmacy” played a role in his death.

The general confusion surrounding these and other jargony cause-of-death explanations has undoubtedly helped to foster conspiracy theories. So have issues concerning official paperwork. Elvis’s death certificate will remain under wraps until 2027, 50 years after his passing. While this may seem like further proof of a cover-up, it’s actually a matter of Tennessee law. As for Presley’s autopsy report: It’s a private family document unlikely to ever see the light of day.

THE POOL HOUSE PHOTO

The second major Elvis sighting came in the form of a photo snapped on December 31, 1977. While visiting Graceland with his family, a man named Mike Joseph took some random pictures of Presley’s pool house. A few years later, while studying them with a magnifying glass, Joseph spotted a shadowy Elvis-like figure sitting in the doorway. Experts at Kodak verified that nothing had been doctored, so it seems someone was peering out the window. In an interview with Larry King, Elvis’s good buddy Joe Esposito suggested it was another Presley associate, Al Strada, in the photo. That explanation was good enough for Joseph, but not everyone is satisfied.

A similar case of mistaken identity led to some excitement a few years later, when sports agent Larry Kolb was captured looking uncannily Elvis-like alongside his client (and Elvis’s pal) Muhammad Ali and Jesse Jackson in a 1984 newspaper photo. Kolb came forward with an original color version of the image proving that it was him—not Elvis—in the shot, but that’s hardly laid the matter to rest. Asked in an interview to identify the man in the background, Ali reportedly said, “That’s my friend Elvis.”

THE KING OF KALAMAZOO

In the late ‘80s, the epicenter of the “Elvis lives” universe shifted to Kalamazoo, Michigan, a city Elvis played four months before his death. In 1988, a woman named Louise Welling from nearby Vicksburg claimed she had seen Presley standing in line at the local Felpausch supermarket. He was rocking a white jumpsuit, naturally, and purchasing an electrical fuse. Welling’s daughter later spied him scarfing Whoppers at Burger King. "What gives this account eerie credibility,” expert David Adler told the Los Angeles Times in an interview promoting his Presley-themed cookbook, “is that Burger King was by far Elvis's favorite fast food chain.”

BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN?

The Kalamazoo hullabaloo spawned a rash of late-’80s Elvis sightings, many of which involved the King doing un-regal things, like pumping gas or buying junk food. These were consistent with the notion that he’d faked his own death to escape the public eye (or the mafia, as one theory holds) and return to his humble roots. But Elvis loved movies—he starred in 31—and Christmas, so it almost makes sense that he would risk blowing his cover by appearing in the 1990 holiday comedy Home Alone.

Believers of this bizarre theory contend that a 55-year-old Presley turned up in the background of the scene where Catherine O’Hara’s character is stuck at the Scranton airport while trying to get home to her son. There’s a bearded guy behind her who looks a little like Elvis in Charro! (1969) and cocks his head in a manner that conspiracy theorists swear is identical to Presley’s onstage mannerisms. Curiously, director Chris Columbus went into Home Alone having just made Heartbreak Hotel, a 1988 flop about some kids who try to kidnap Elvis. Columbus and Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin laugh about the theory in the DVD commentary, but the identity of the extra remains unknown. Even if the real bearded man were to come forward, it probably wouldn’t kill the story.

GROUNDSKEEPER PRESLEY

In the summer of 2016, video of a Graceland groundskeeper purported to be Elvis got the internet all shook up. In the clip, a gray-haired dude in a baseball cap and Elvis Week T-shirt fusses with some wire and holds up two fingers—apparently some type of numerological clue—as he walks past the camera.

The video has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube—far more than the one where a clever Elvis fan debunks the whole thing by chatting with the actual Graceland employee, an affable gentleman named Bill Barmer. “I’m not really 81,” says Barmer, who then compares himself to a Pokémon Go character.

THE FUTURE

“Elvis is alive” theories can’t go on forever. The man would now be in his 80s, and the oldest person on record only lived to 122. That means we've got maybe another 40 years of stories about the King chilling in Argentina or sipping coffee at Tim Hortons or doing whatever you do as an elderly man who’s been in hiding since the Carter Administration. Unless it turns out Elvis is immortal.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In an interview accompanying The Beatles Anthology DVD, George Harrison likens a brief 1972 encounter with Elvis at Madison Square Garden to “meeting Vishnu or Krishna or something.” His hair was black, his skin was tan, and his aura left the Beatle feeling like “a snooty little nobody.” Harrison may have been hinting at something Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper said rather deftly with their 1987 single “Elvis Is Everywhere.” Alive or dead, Presley is one pop culture deity we’ll never stop worshipping.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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11 Facts About Coyote Ugly On Its 20th Anniversary

Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko, and Piper Perabo star in Coyote Ugly (2000).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly, the cult classic that launched the careers of Piper Perabo and Adam Garcia, is celebrating its 20th birthday. Though still shy of legal drinking age, the film belongs to a group of early 2000s chick flicks with varying degrees of girl power, including: Bring It On, Charlie’s Angels, Josie & The Pussycats, and Legally Blonde.

"There was a real kind of stiletto feminism that was happening in the women's movement in the late ’90s," Perabo has said of her star-making vehicle. It's that same feminism that informed the sexy, inebriated veneer of Coyote Ugly. In celebration of the movie's 20th anniversary, grab a drink (just not water) and read up on these behind-the-scenes facts about the 2000 guilty pleasure.

1. Coyote Ugly is named for a famous Manhattan dive bar.

Piper Perabo stars in Coyote Ugly (2000).Frank Masi/Touchstone Pictures & Jerry Bruckheimer, Inc./Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coyote Ugly takes its name from the Coyote Ugly Saloon, the iconic New York City dive bar which, in turn, is inspired by the slang term for waking up after a one-night stand and realizing that, in the harsh light of day, that temporary paramour isn’t as attractive as they were the night before. Also, they’re sleeping on your arm—which you feel the overwhelming urge to gnaw off, like a coyote, in order to escape. Ouch!

2. Coyote Ugly was based on an article by the author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Coyote Ugly was based on a GQ article written by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, about her experience working as a bartender at the Coyote Ugly Saloon. “We were expected to be a little bit larger than life, or to pretend to be, or—at the very least—to want to be,” Gilbert wrote of the Coyote Ugly way. “We were the good-time girls. We were a cross between Old West dancehall hookers and gangsters' gun molls. Crack that gum, swing that ass, drink that shot, keep that change.”

3. Britney Spears and other major music stars of the time were approached about starring in Coyote Ugly.

Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and Jewel were all approached about playing Coyote Ugly's Violet Sanford, the New Jersey singer-songwriter aptly nicknamed "New Jersey" during the character’s shifts at the raunchy bar.

4. LeAnn Rimes benefited from Coyote Ugly's growing cult status.

LeAnn Rimes sang "Can’t Fight the Moonlight," the blockbuster lead single from Coyote Ugly, which went four times platinum in 2008—eight years after the movie's original release, signifying the film's cult status.

5. Piper Perabo's singing voice in Coyote Ugly was dubbed, even though she can actually sing.

Though Piper Perabo, whos character Violet writes the song for LeAnn Rimes in the movie, could really sing and even learned guitar for the movie, Rimes’s voice was dubbed in during Perabo’s singing scenes. In 2015, Perabo—who originally sang and recorded all of the songs herself—told The Hollywood Reporter that she was disappointed when she learned her voice was going to be replaced. "[Director David McNally] said, 'We're going to dub the songs,' and I was like, 'Uh, OK,'" Perabo recalled. "What can I say? I'm like 21. What am I going to say, no?"

6. Kevin Smith did some work on the script.

Actor, writer, and filmmaker Kevin Smith, of Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Jay and Silent Bob fame, did some uncredited rewrites on the script. The credited screenwriter, Gina Wendkos, also wrote The Princess Diaries 1 and 2 and the mid-2000s Hilary Duff-starrer, The Perfect Man.

7. Coyote Ugly's leading man helped create the role of Fiyero in Broadway's Wicked around the same time the movie was released.

Adam Garcia attends the after-party for the musical Wicked celebrating 10 years in the West End on September 27, 2016 in London, England.David M. Benett/Dave Benett / Getty Images for Wicked UK

Adam Garcia, who played Violet’s love interest Kevin, helped originate the role of Fiyero in Wicked in Broadway workshops around the same time that Coyote Ugly came out. He also portrayed Fiyero in the West End production of the musical, alongside original star Idina Menzel.

8. Coyote Ugly's bar had to be redesigned to accommodate Bridget Moynahan.

Bartender Rachel, played by Bridget Moynahan—who worked as a model before transitioning to acting—was too tall to dance on the bar that had been created for Coyote Ugly, so the set had to be redesigned to accommodate her height. "[W]hen we had the first rehearsal they didn’t make the ceiling high enough for me and Tyra [Banks] to be able to stand on the bar," Moynahan told The Ringer. "We had to sit that one out."

9. One of Coyote Ugly's stars has a connection to Center Stage—another 2000 cult hit.

Izabella Miko, the Polish actress who plays Cammie, was formerly a ballet dancer at the National Ballet School in Warsaw and the American School of Ballet, which famously served as the inspiration for the American Ballet Academy in Center Stage.

10. Tyra Banks is desperate to see a Coyote Ugly sequel, starring some pretty major names.

Tyra Banks plays former bartender Zoe, who goes off to law school, enabling Violet to take her place. Banks has long been lobbying for a sequel to Coyote Ugly, and has some pretty big names in mind to star in it, including Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez and … Meryl Streep? "But, like, [Streep] would be the bar," Banks clarified. "She should be the bar! Method actor."

11. Piper Perabo is curious to see how different Coyote Ugly might look in 2020.

Perabo, too, has said she would entertain the idea of a sequel, but “it would need to be looked at in a different lens.” Perabo, who was arrested in 2018 for protesting the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, told News.com.au, “I would be excited to look at it again in 2020, because I think we’ve evolved and it would be cool to see what it would be like now."