Elvis’ death to funeral hour by hour: Dad Vernon’s ‘wracking sobs’ and kindness to fans | Music | Entertainment

Elvis died on August 16, 1977. His death shocked millions of fans around the world. Despite being one of the biggest stars of all time, the arrangements to bring the body and home and then bury him the following day were remarkably rapid. In the middle of the sudden global shock and dealing with his own crippling grief, Vernon constantly thought of the thousands of fans gathered outside. He overruled everybody else on both days and made sure the fans were given their opportunity to say goodbye to their idol and then made sure they were able to take something personal home with them. 

On Tuesday, August 16, 1977, at 2pm, Elvis’ fiancee Ginger woke up in bed and realised he was not there. It seemed a little strange but no cause for alarm. She called her mother for a chat, dressed and put on her make-up.

Eventually, she went looking for The King. When she opened his bathroom door to find him lying on the floor, she suddenly realized something was terribly wrong.  Elvis wasn’t moving. He had clearly collapsed and suffered some sort of attack on the toilet. At the time, Ginger thought he had fallen and hit his head and passed out.

She called out for Al Strada, the person on afternoon duty at the house. The star’s daughter Lisa Marie came to see what all the fuss was and was taken away by Ginger. Vernon Presley was telephoned (he lived next door to Graceland) and rushed over to the house while an ambulance was called.

From then, Vernon took control of everything that happened over the next 48 hours.

At noon the following day, a single white hearse bore the body of Elvis back home from the hospital in a copper casket, the same as his mother Gladys had been buried in.

Vernon had overseen every detail of his son’s farewell and made sure he looked his best. Elvis was dressed in a white suit given to him by his father and his hair was cut, his sideburns dyed.

Outside the Memphis mansion, over 50,000 fans had gathered and it was Vernon who realised how important it was to them and to the memory and legacy of his son that they be included as much as possible.

Originally, the funeral service was planned to be held at Memphis Funeral Home but Vernon insisted it was held at home and announced there would be a public viewing so as many fans as possible could pay their respects.

The open coffin was placed in the archway between the living room and the music room on the south end of the house, for the family and friends at home to say their private goodbyes first.

At 3pm the first fans were admitted. Some estimates claim 30,000 filed past, sunken in shock and sorrow. Some fainted.

Vernon extended the viewing time to give as many as possible the chance to see his son one last time.

That evening, close family and friends held a private wake at home that lasted late into the night.

At 9am the following morning they began to transport the thousands of flowers that had been laid outside to the cemetery. It took 100 vans almost four hours.

Back at the star’s home, the small and intimate funeral service began at Graceland at 2pm and reports afterwards said Vernon’s “wracking sobs” could be heard throughout. 

Afterwards, the coffin was loaded back into a white hearse which drove three miles to Forest Hill Cemetery, followed by the mourners in 17 white limousines.

They were greeted by enormous banks of flowers and floral arrangements which included guitars, broken hearts, clowns and hound dogs. 

The simple ceremony was conducted in the mausoleum, all the flowers from the coffin scattered on the floor. Afterward, Vernon remained alone inside for his final few moments with his son.

That evening he made another thoughtful and beautiful announcement for the fans: all the flowers and floral arrangements at the cemetery would be given to fans the following morning to take home as a memento and one last gift.

Thousands were gathered there at the gates when they opened at 8.25 am on August 19 and more than 50,000 fans came throughout the morning.

By noon every single flower was gone.

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