In the world of entertainment, they don’t come much bigger than Elvis Presley. The singer, who was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, had dozens of hit songs like 1969's "Suspicious Minds," starred in several movies like 1957's Jailhouse Rock, and engendered a loyal fan base that flocked to his concerts even as his purported drug use began to have an adverse effect on his health—and possibly his behavior—in the years leading up to his death from heart failure at age 42 on August 16, 1977. Several of Presley’s live appearances have become notorious for his off-the-cuff commentary. Take a look at a few times the King puzzled audiences as much as he entertained them.
1. Airing Dirty Laundry
Fans of Presley who showed up for a concert in Richfield, Ohio, on July 18, 1975 were greeted by a singer who apparently had an ax—or an ex—to grind. Presley had been feuding with Kathy Westmoreland, a soprano back-up singer who once dated Presley but had since moved on to another member of the band. That night, a jilted Presley introduced her and then offered his personal thoughts. “She will take affection from anybody, any place, any time,” he told the audience. “In fact, she gets it from the whole band.” Presley repeated the insult the following night in Uniondale, New York. The third night, in Norfolk, Virginia, he continued his verbal assault, this time making more graphic sexual remarks in a lowered voice. Westmoreland walked off the stage but eventually stayed on the tour.
2. The Catfish Incident
The same night Presley belittled Kathy Westmoreland in Norfolk, Virginia, he also turned his sights on the Sweet Inspirations, a quartet of gospel singers who performed with him. Presley told the audience he smelled green peppers and onions and that the Sweet Inspirations had probably been eating catfish. While some people believed Presley intended it as a racial slur, the Sweets thought it was something else. "Neither Kathy nor the Sweets knew exactly what he meant by the 'catfish' remark," Peter Guralnick, Presley's biographer, wrote. "None of them thought it was racial—they just knew it was hostile, and there was an ugly undertone not just to that comment but to his whole demeanor."
When one of the Sweet Inspirations, Estelle Brown, grew visibly distraught, Presley lashed out. “Estelle, Sweet Inspirations, [all-male quintet back-up group] Stamps, if you don’t look up, I’m going to kick your ass,” he said. Brown then walked out, prompting Presley to issue a non-apology. “Sorry for any embarrassment I might have caused, but if you can’t take it, get off the pot.” More singers walked out, though the Sweet Temptations did wind up continuing with the tour.
3. Armed and Dangerous
It was no secret that Elvis Presley enjoyed owning and handling guns. He reportedly liked to shoot television sets if he saw something he didn’t like and often carried weapons on stage with him after receiving a death threat in 1970. During one 1977 concert, Presley was gyrating when a .22 caliber derringer pistol popped out of his boot and landed directly in front of guitarist John Wilkinson. The gun remained on stage for 20 minutes before being retrieved.
4. Rambling Elvis
While appearing in College Park, Maryland, on September 28, 1974, Presley’s banter with the audience took on new and even more peculiar twists. Addressing a newspaper reviewer who had complained about Presley's large midsection at the previous night’s concert, Presley explained it was from a bulletproof vest and called the writer “a son of a bitch.” When requests from the audience grew annoying, Presley cautioned them. “If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to walk offstage and go back to my dressing room and play with my foot,” he said.
5. Viva Las Vegas
In 1973, Presley was winding down the end of a lengthy residency at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Toward the end of his stint, he had become ornery for a number of reasons. The Hilton was about to fire a waiter named Mario, whom Presley had grown fond of. And as he was about to become a free agent, the King was also dissatisfied with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and wanted to get out of the Vegas scene. All of this made for a temperamental Presley when he arrived onstage on September 3, 1973. After complaining that “the sound system of this hotel ain’t worth a damn,” Presley modified the lyrics to “Love Me Tender.” Rather than stick to the original song, Presley sang: “Adios you motha, bye bye poppa, too. To hell with the Hilton Hotel and screw the showroom, too.”
Before finishing, Presley made a plea for Mario to remain employed. He was off the road for five months. When he came back, it was for another season at the Hilton.