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Elvis remains musical, pop culture influence 40 years after death

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Elvis Presley on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York, June 8, 1972.

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Elvis Presley performs during a concert in Fort Worth, Texas, early in his career.

Icon? Thief? Sex symbol? Menace to society? Hero? Drug addict? The King?

There is only one Elvis Presley, but there are also many.

No, that’s not an existential riddle about the hip-swiveling, lip-curling singer who irrevocably changed the sound and look of contemporary music and — with it — popular culture in the 1950s and beyond.

Nor is it a reference to the estimated 35,000 Elvis impersonators still active around the world today, 40 years after the intensely charismatic singer hailed as “The King” permanently left the building on Aug. 16, 1977. He died from a drug-fueled heart attack in Memphis in his famed Graceland mansion, which still draws 600,000 visitors a year (second in the U.S. to the White House).

Only 42, Elvis reportedly weighed 350 pounds at the time of his death — 187 pounds more than when he was 32. He tested positive in his autopsy for 10 different prescription medications, including 10 times his prescribed amount of codeine.

Yet, while he died far too young, Elvis had seemingly lived several lifetimes in just over four decades.

He was a sometimes scorned high school student, an impoverished Memphis truck driver, an aspiring singer, a wealthy pop music superstar, a sergeant in the Army, a smoldering sex symbol, a movie idol, a middle-of-the-road Las Vegas showroom staple, a bloated, drug-addled victim of fame and more.

Most significant of all. Elvis was the proto-rock star, an inadvertent revolutionary and a game-changing cultural phenomenon, whose impact extends from the Beatles and U2…

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