Jewish World Review August 19, 2002 / 11 Elul, 5762

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reiley
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Long live the King | The mania surrounding the death of Elvis Presley 25 years ago is way over the top but interesting nonetheless. More than 600,000 Americans visit his Graceland home in Tennessee every year, and The King still remains unmatched as a rock-and-roll icon.

But none of that is important. What happened to Elvis Presley is.

Presley's appeal to working-class Americans was easy to figure out. He was basically a shy, polite southern man who loved his momma and his country. He was generous and high-spirited in his youth. Elvis had little interest in academics and actually drove a truck before he was discovered.

In short, Elvis was non-threatening and totally acceptable to young people in the 1950s who were looking for excitement and role models. James Dean and Marlon Brando were fascinating but dark. Elvis was the rock singer next door.

But then fame got a hold of Presley and stalked him like a hound dog. Elvis was totally unprepared for the god-like stature his fans thrust upon him. All The King wanted to do was have fun and eat rich food. But the crowd wanted much more. The crowd wanted to know everything about him.

Presley was gifted with a natural charisma and the ability to sell his act in a unique and stimulating way. He was an exciting showman who understood the theatre of rock-and-roll long before anybody else. The other teen idols of his day -- Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Ricky Nelson -- pale beside him on stage. Elvis had all the right moves until the curtain went down. Then he was lost.

He married a teenager and took advice from a manipulative manager. No one in the singer's life had a clue as to the stress that descended upon him. Presley found himself in a forest of emotional chaos and could find no way out.

Losing one's anonymity is perhaps the most stressful thing a human being can endure. Your humble correspondent has experienced this, albeit on a scale far less intense than what Elvis Presley faced. There is something about being constantly watched and measured that raises tension in a person. It is impossible to relax knowing that every move you make and every word you say is the subject of scrutiny and comment. Sleep abandoned Presley early on as it does many famous people.

That's why so many stars numb themselves with intoxicants, and that is what Elvis eventually did. He also, according to eyewitness accounts, became paranoid. Constantly dealing with people that want something from you takes perception and skill. Elvis was completely lost, and the joy of wealth and fame quickly became a burden to him.

Many of us look at successful people and can't figure out why they are so screwed up. And that is understandable. Most people would love to live in a mansion and have every material comfort. But the pressure of living up to the expectations of millions of strangers is like a hammer banging into the back of your neck. Every failure is magnified, every mistake a headline. Once a person becomes famous, there is little relief from the public. Elvis Presley had to literally hide inside his Graceland home or whatever hotel suite he happened upon.

I have always felt sorry for Elvis, and when he died at age 42, I was sad. He was fun to watch on stage, and he had great style. Only a few Americans have managed to capture the nation's attention and hold onto to it. Marilyn Monroe, Babe Ruth and John Wayne are really the only ones that rival Elvis as far as pop culture is concerned.

The unfairness of it is that Presley was destroyed by a demon he never understood. There are no classes in how to handle superstardom. There are no books on the constant stress of the spotlight. And Presley probably wouldn't have read them anyway.

Thus Elvis was completely defenseless against a power he couldn't see, didn't understand and could not confront. The demon Fame beat him down and wore him out. And while millions of us would have helped him if we could have -- in the end, nobody could do anything. Elvis died alone, his heart simply stopped functioning. It had been broken beyond compare.

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of the new book, "The No-Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America" Comments by clicking here.


08/12/02: A friendly reminder
08/05/02: Heaven only knows
07/29/02: Blood money
07/22/02: Suffer the children
07/15/02: Reaching critical mass
07/08/02: Believe it or not
07/01/02: Charity begins at home
06/24/02: Spinning a tale and the case for "Stupid White Men"
06/17/02: Blank those Europeans!
06/10/02: What does Bono want from us?
06/03/02: On fighting evil
05/28/02: A Tale of Two Churches
05/20/02: Crimes against humanity
05/13/02: Silence of the lambs
05/06/02: Hide the children
04/29/02: 'Paul, Paul, Paul!'
04/22/02: Barbarians in the Church
04/15/02: Pray for peace, polish the weapons
03/11/02: Do no harm? Time to spank "Dr. Phil"
03/04/02: Promoting the general welfare
02/25/02: Who's responsible?
02/19/02: Lay it on them
02/11/02: Buy dope, fund terror
02/04/02: Back room deals
01/28/02: From boom to bust
01/21/02: The Fairness Doctrine
01/14/02: Hey, Paula, take it to the bank and hush up
01/07/02: And justice for none
12/31/01: All that's left
12/24/01: Santa is appalled
12/17/01: Fight the power
12/10/01: The black challenge
12/03/01: How things have changed
11/26/01: Waiting in the Bushes
11/19/01: The sign of the Cross
11/09/01: Hollyweird strikes back
11/06/01: The fear factor
10/26/01: Show me the money
10/22/01: See no evil
10/15/01: Peace, but no quiet
10/08/01: The air war
10/01/01: I don't understand
09/24/01: We are all soldiers, and we have a job to do
09/14/01: Evil on display
09/11/01: Family matters!
09/04/01: End of summer blues
08/27/01: Summertime -- and the livin' ain't easy
08/20/01: The rap on rap
08/13/01: The truth hurts
08/06/01: Amnesty for illegals: Bush's political investment
07/30/01: The big picture on Condit-Levy
07/24/01: Silence of the Shams
07/16/01: Condit, Kennedy and cable news
07/09/01: Heather needs a childhood: The unnecessary loss of innocence
07/02/01: What would have happened if Steven Spielberg had recut "Schindler's List" for German audiences so they wouldn't be confronted with "emotional issues"?
06/25/01: Freak dancing
06/18/01: Work or die
06/11/01: Soundbite nation
06/04/01: Paying through the nose
05/29/01: Graduation Day 2001
05/21/01: Accepting the unacceptable
05/14/01: The Clinton legacy
05/07/01: Kerrey's ordeal
04/27/01: Is the party over?
04/20/01: Racism in public education
04/16/01: The fleecing of America
04/10/01: People who need perspective
04/03/01: Dubya's bottom line --- and ours
03/27/01: Don't tell, don't ask
03/20/01: Greenspan with envy
03/13/01: Clinton and Jackson
03/07/01: All that's left in America
02/27/01: The Letterman experience
02/20/01: Bread and circuses
02/06/01: How the Clintons do it
01/30/01: The Bush dilemma
01/24/01: I have been investigating Jackson's finances for the past two years
01/17/01: Sifting Ashcroft's record

© 2001 Creators Syndicate