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December 21, 2014

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Elvis historian Cory Cooper: The King ‘had such an importance and a deep impact on the history of music’

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Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas Sun founder Hank Greenspun with Priscilla and Elvis Presley at their wedding.

Elvis Presley Remembered

This 1958 photo provided by RCA Victor shows Elvis Presley. August 16, 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of Presley's death. Launch slideshow »

If the King of Rock and Roll was still alive, he would be 78 years old. Instead, our minds will travel back to Aug. 16, 1977, when the world was stunned with the tragic news of Elvis Presley’s death at age 42 in Memphis. The continuing Michael Jackson trial in Los Angeles, with its shocking medical revelations, is eerily reminiscent of the way Elvis died.

Las Vegas has become home to all things Elvis ever since: tribute artists, slot machines, wedding ministers and more. Brandon Bennett presents his show, “Elvis My Way,” on Friday night at Sam’s Town, where it’s a King’s all-weekend celebration. All guests dressed as Elvis eat at the buffet for free; Elvis movies will play nonstop at Roxy’s; plus, there’s an Elvis karaoke contest on Sunday.

It’s incredible that nearly four decades after his death, Elvis is still an imposing figure, and it speaks to the impact he and his music, which first shocked a nation, are still making. Nevada played host to Elvis during his career as if it was his second home.

I reached out to Elvis historian Cory Cooper, an authority on the King’s life and music who regular contributes to books, movies, and online and TV projects about the swivel-hipped singer guitarist.

As a sought-out authority on Elvis, Cory draws from his vast knowledge and deep ties to Elvis’ world, including band members, performers and members of the “Memphis Mafia,” the group of bodyguards, friends and employees who worked with and protected Elvis.

Here are Cory’s thoughts:

“Tomorrow marks the 36th anniversary since the passing of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. As we look back to celebrate his life and career, we can truly see what made him so unique and special. Not only did he earn more gold, platinum and multi-platinum records than anyone, he also has sold more than 1 billion records worldwide.

“Elvis has a rich history in Nevada. Most people know Elvis performed in Las Vegas and starred in the movie ‘Viva Las Vegas’ in 1964, but he started in 1956 with shows at New Frontier. It wasn’t until 1969, when Elvis made a triumphant return to Las Vegas at the International — later the Las Vegas Hilton and now simply called LVH — that these shows became legendary. Elvis performed 837 sold-out shows to more than 2.5 million people during that time, and it was said that the population of Las Vegas would increase 10 percent every time Elvis was in town.

“What seems to almost be a mystery are Elvis’ performances at Lake Tahoe. Not much seems to be said about these shows, but Elvis performed at Del Web’s Sahara Tahoe, now the Horizon, in 1971, ’73, ’74 and ’76 for a total of 98 shows. Elvis performed only once in Reno at the Centennial Coliseum, now called the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, on Nov. 24, 1976.

Elvis Presley Exhibit @Imperial Palace

Joe Esposito, Elvis' tour manager, at King's Ransom Museum's Elvis Presley exhibit at the Imperial Palace. Launch slideshow »

“As a white artist, Elvis had such an importance and a deep impact on the history of music and for the barriers of music to be knocked down. Elvis was the most controversial person in music at the time his career took off in the early 1950s.

“He liked fancy and bright clothing that he bought from Lansky Brother’s Clothing on Beale Street in Memphis and wore his hair in a pompadour style. The way Elvis danced and moved onstage was seen as too suggestive and vulgar to many people, but Elvis was just doing what came natural to him when he sang and moved to music.

“He not only revolutionized the way we listen to music and for music to be accepted, but he set off hysteria felt around the globe. When Elvis came on the scene, black artists were not on white radio. Music was segregated; there were ‘race records.’ Elvis opened the doors for people to accept black music. People went back and discovered Little Richard and other fantastic black artists.

“It became so popular that legendary music producer Jerry Wexler changed the phrase from race records to R&B. Rhythm and blues was now accepted, and black artists were being recognized and went from local and regional acts to international stars.

“From Paul McCartney and John Lennon to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, to Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, all were all influenced by Elvis. There was truly nobody like him. He was a unique performer, and he was the American dream. He came from humble beginnings and became the biggest superstar in the world and sold more records than anyone else in the history of music.

“All the while maintaining his gracious ways and manners and always appreciating his fans. This is part of what endeared himself to the world along with his tremendous talent, charisma and showmanship. Younger generations are becoming Elvis fans because they enjoy what he was all about and realize his importance and iconic status in the history of music.

“That is why Elvis continues to be so relevant and influential today. So, sit back, put on some Elvis music and enjoy your day.”

Our thanks to Cory for his insights. He is a gifted speaker on the topic of Elvis.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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