Sunday, April 26, 2015 | 2 a.m.
The number has grown into the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak: 837 consecutive sold-out shows performed by Elvis Presley at the International and Las Vegas Hilton from July 1969 through December 1976.
But the real number is 636.
“Well, that’s very interesting,” said Joe Esposito, one of Elvis’ closest confidants since the two met in 1958 while serving in the Army. Esposito was in the showroom for every one of Presley’s Las Vegas performances. “I’ve always thought (837) was the number, (but) I couldn’t tell you exactly how they figured that was the number. … We were not counting up the shows at the time.”
“That’s news to me,” said Sam Thompson, who headed Elvis’ security team in the years leading to the star’s death. “I’ve always thought (837) was the number, but it was not something we discussed when Elvis was playing at the Hilton.”
In September 1978, more than a year after Presley’s death, then-Las Vegas Hilton owner Baron Hilton unveiled a bronze statue of the King that still stands in the lobby of Westgate Las Vegas. He was joined by Presley’s father, Vernon, and former wife, Priscilla. They pulled away a drape to reveal the statue of Elvis in his Vegas heyday and a plaque noting he had performed 837 consecutive sold-out shows at the hotel.
Ever since, that number has been held up as the official total of sold-out shows during Elvis’ reign at the International and Hilton.
But the figure was revisited when Westgate took over the former LVH and pursued a partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland in Memphis for the new “Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition, the Show, the Experience,” which opened last week.
When the venture was announced, Westgate officials touted that Presley had performed “more than 600” sold-out shows. As plans for the partnership advanced, Graceland’s chief archivist, Angie Marchese, dove back into the family’s files and counted every performance in the showroom. She arrived at 636.
Those who were around at the time say they aren’t sure how the 837 figure surfaced. There is a sense Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, bumped the number up to add zeal to the Presley legacy.
But others maintain that Hilton himself created the figure. Hilton commissioned the statue and had final authority in what was written for the plaque.
The Clark County Fire Department’s listed capacity for the showroom during the Presley era reportedly was 1,150. But under the direction of the late Emilio Muscelli, the hotel’s legendary maître d’ and food and beverage manager during Presley’s headlining days, upwards of 2,000 fans were stuffed in for each performance.