Elvis Sightings and You
People keep thinking Elvis is still alive -- and here's why that matters to you.
There are not too many people we bump into who express a belief that Elvis Presley is still alive, but they are out there, and reports of sightings continue to trickle in — nearly half a century after the rock icon's death. Some people believe that he faked his own death in 1977 in order to escape the pressures of celebrity and wanted to live out a normal live in anonymity. Some believe he was assisting law enforcement in fighting the mob and was placed into the witness protection program. There are even much wilder theories which came to be through equally wild stories, which we'll discuss. But whichever alternate history you may prefer, it's hard to escape cold hard facts — and one of those facts is that Elvis sightings may be more relevant to your daily life than you ever suspected.
There have been so many sightings of The King that the topic even has its own Wikipedia page. Perhaps the most famous story is that a background extra in the 1990 movie Home Alone appeared to be Elvis, to some people. Another is that a photo taken at Graceland a few months after Elvis's death captured him seen through a glass door — or, at least, captured someone with long sideburns similar to those Elvis had worn. Both of these stories were easily debunked. The extra in Home Alone was actor Gary Grott, a friend of director Chris Columbus who appeared in several of his movies. And the sideburn guy at Graceland was Al Strada, the head of Graceland security, which was quite obvious to everyone who knew who he was. In 1984, a picture ran in the papers of Muhammad Ali with Jesse Jackson and sports agent Larry Kolb. When people starting saying Kolb was actually Elvis, Ali — much to his credit, I think — confirmed to an interviewer that it was, in fact, Elvis.
Popular stories of Elvis being seen here or there got really big about ten years after his death. The epicenter was Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Elvis had played one of his last concerts. A mother and daughter both claimed they'd seen him — one standing in line at a supermarket and the other at a Burger King, Elvis's favorite fast food restaurant. These got just enough press to trigger copycat reports from all over the country. Elvis was seemingly spotted everywhere by anyone and everyone, doing any random thing: pumping gas, riding a motorcycle, sitting on a bus.
Except for one little detail: Elvis was dead, and this introduces the part of today's discussion where it becomes relevant to you. After playing racquetball all night on his personal court and grabbing a few hours sleep, Elvis suffered an undignified death in his own bathroom. With a dangerous overdose of prescription pain medications in his system, he sat on the toilet and squeezed, doing what's known medically as a Valsalva maneuver, where you exhale hard against a closed airway — something we've all done in that same situation. People with a cardiac arrhythmia sometimes use this technique on purpose to restore their heartbeat to a normal rhythm. Sometimes — as in this case — the Valsalva maneuver can stop the heart. Elvis fell forward onto the floor in cardiac arrest.
His body was soon discovered by his girlfriend Ginger Alden. Within minutes the bathroom had half a dozen Graceland staff members crowded in, and Elvis's personal doctor attempted to rescuscitate him. The ambulance arrived, and Elvis — with neither heartbeat nor respiration ever restored — was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital.
It's what happened after Elvis's death that really seals the deal. The most famous man in the world — and certainly the most recognizable face in the city of Memphis, county of Shelby, and state of Tennessee — was examined by multiple doctors and pronounced dead. He was autopsied with multiple doctors present. The body was examined by the medical examiner.
And then, for two hours one afternoon, Elvis's casket was opened as he lay in repose at Graceland. Literal miles of mourners lined up, and uncounted thousands of Elvis fans gazed upon their idol's face as they filed past. A cousin of Elvis's accepted a bribe from a National Enquirer photographer who shot photos of the body, and the world's most famous face was seen one final time by the entire world. Not one doctor, EMT, mortician, family member, friend, business associate, or fan raised any specter of any doubt of the reality of the situation.
No matter how you spin it, there is no remote possibility that Elvis Presley was alive somewhere else, either as his body was being autopsied, or while his friends, family, and countless other intimates spent time with his body. Elvis Presley died on that day. It is a fact. It is not a theory or a supposition nor even a possibility; it is a fact. To allow any chance of any other version of events is simply irrational, and it is wrong.
This is one of those occasions when we do not follow the "Question everything" philosophy. In episode #530, we talked about three types of cases when you shouldn't bother questioning things, and this is one of them. The facts are the facts, and at this point it's ridiculous to question them. Like, full delusional disorder time.
So, when we hear of an Elvis sighting — maybe there's a photo of someone that looks just like him, or maybe someone who knew him swore they saw him — we don't waste our time. We know it's wrong even without listening to the claim or reviewing the evidence. We should not waste our time doing either.
This is why I titled this episode "Elvis Sightings and You". Elvis sightings have little relevance to the daily lives of intelligent adults in the 21st century, but the reason they have little relevance is important to all of us, including you personally. Ten years ago you would never have imagined that there would be a community of honest believers in the Flat Earth, but now we know that's actually a thing. When someone comes to you and offers to prove to you that the Earth is flat with their YouTube video, do you — on the principle of "questioning everything" — hear them out and listen to their argument? No, and neither should you. A Flat Earth claim is an Elvis sighting. It's false, no matter what — no matter what — some ill-informed, gullible person has been led to believe. It is false even before it gets out of bed in the morning. It is false before it pours its coffee. And it will remain false all day long.
What you need to avoid is leaving yourself open to a possibility when no such possibility actually exists, and that's exactly the error that many people make. In the case of Elvis Presley, ideas have been put out there that Elvis still lives and that his death was some kind of conspiracy or ruse — and if that had actually been true, then in that case, it suddenly becomes reasonable to give credence to an Elvis sighting. That's just what happened. A lot of people have put forward such suggestions, but none have had a greater influence on popular culture than two women, Gail Brewer-Giorgio and Cinda Godfrey. Both had romantic fixations on Elvis that were so extreme they could arguably be described as psychologically unhealthy. The alternate histories that they contrived, published in books, and put out into the world gave license to countless people — many of whom were also women with hopeless Elvis infatuations — that he could still be out there in some form. Once that happened, many people became susceptible to this error we've been talking about: treating the impossible as possible.
All this began immediately after Elvis's death. Brewer-Giorgio wrote a novel called Orion: The Living Superstar of Song. It was about a rock star, nakedly copied from Elvis in every detail, who couldn't deal with fame and so faked his own death and thus became free to live a normal life. A psychotherapist might conclude it was Brewer-Giorgio's projection of what she wished was true.
This led to an interesting sidebar. Jimmy Ellis was a very talented singer of the day, but in a stroke of bad fortune that amounted to a professional death sentence, it just so happened that his natural speaking and singing voices were absolutely identical to Elvis's. Brewer-Giorgio's book gave Sun Records an idea. They signed Ellis, had him wear a Lone Ranger style mask, and renamed him Orion — the character in the novel. It was a stroke of cross promotional genius. Ellis and Sun Records benefitted from Brewer-Giorgio's Elvis story being in the air, and Brewer-Giorgio's book sales benefitted from Orion suddenly being real.
Over the years, Brewer-Giorgio wrote more books that directly claimed various conspiracy theories that had Elvis still alive somewhere, and she was hired to write and be featured in two television documentaries hosted by Bill Bixby, The Elvis Files (1991) and The Elvis Conspiracy (1992). In a depressingly graphic demonstration of how effectively this misinformation spread to gullible audiences, a call-in vote following the second documentary revealed that 79% of callers believed Elvis was still alive. It was then 15 years after his death.
The other woman most directly responsible for the Elvis sighting phenomenon was a victim of Brewer-Giorgio's, Cinda Godfrey. She was a Born Again Christian who struggled to reconcile her religious beliefs with her infatuation with Elvis, but who then found salvation through Brewer-Giorgio's books. Godfrey had a sort of psycho-religious vision which she described as a revelation, and in that revelation, she learned that Adam, Jesus, and Elvis were the Holy Trinity. Moreover, that the Holy Trinity walked the Earth today in the person of Orion. She wrote it all up in a book that became one of many on the subject published in 1999, the eve of the millennium. Apparently Godfrey was not the only one who suspected Elvis would return as the Second Coming of Christ. Her book was titled The Elvis-Jesus Mystery: The Shocking Scriptural and Scientific Evidence that Elvis Presley Could Be the Messiah Anticipated throughout History.
There were other even crazier books published in 1999, including one by Jay Gould, who claimed to have been Elvis's personal psychic, and who said that Elvis had been living with the Martians since 1977 but would return in 2000 to lead a rock band of angels and to minister to the sick and suffering. However, it is Godfrey's account that is most relevant and conveys the most important lesson in keeping the possible and impossible separate. Psychologists will often delineate the point at which a delusional disorder requires intervention and treatment as when the patient can no longer integrate their delusional belief into a normal, healthy life with normal relationships. Godfrey wrote in her book's acknowledgements:
And so, friends, keep the possible and impossible separate. Keep Elvis sightings as Elvis sightings. Don't spend a moment discussing the Flat Earth or the Moon Landing Conspiracy. Don't give delusions a foothold in your mind, and stay healthy.
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