In Depth

Elvis Presley death conspiracies: long live the King

Fans believe the star faked his death to escape the limelight - or the mafia

Elvis Presley fans worldwide are marking the 42nd anniversary this week of the rock and roll legend’s death - but others are asking whether the King is still among us.

Millions of devotees were left devastated when the King died suddenly from heart failure at the age of 42, while others refused to accept that the rhinestone-clad megastar had really gone.

Despite official reports confirming that the 42-year-old died of natural causes on 16 August 1977, some sceptics think the King has simply left the stage and is still out there. Others believe reports of his death are part of the conspiracy.

Here are some of the strangest and most intriguing theories:

The Black Helicopter

Some believe Elvis faked his own death, claiming that a black helicopter holds the key to his “disappearance”. The Sun points out there were sightings of a helicopter landing in Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, hours before Presley’s body was discovered. Fans speculate that Elvis was picked up from his home and flown to Bermuda, where he “lay low when he became tired of fame”.

The Groundsman

After faking his death and disappearing, Elvis returned to live at Graceland disguised as the groundskeeper, according to another theory. The Daily Express notes that attention recently turned to a “pony-tailed, grey-haired groundsman” working at Graceland. The video clips of the man posted on YouTube are accompanied by comments suggesting a resemblance between the groundsman and the King, who would now be 83. While some argue the man on the video appears to be too short to be Elvis, that hasn’t stopped the speculation.

The Pastor

Theorists claim that Elvis is alive and preaching the good word as a singing pastor in Arkansas. Bob Joyce bears a striking resemblance to the singer in both his looks and his singing voice, and his sermons even echo the words of the King’s autobiography. The Sun says conspiracy theorists have blended together pictures of Elvis and Joyce to support their claims. Predictably, Joyce’s insistence that he isn’t the legend has done nothing to end speculation.

Dodging the Mob

One of the most popular theories is that Elvis may have faked his death in order to escape from the Mafia. Gail Brewer-Giorgio’s 1988 book Is Elvis Alive? examines FBI documents suggesting the singer may have gone into witness protection.

“Do I know if Elvis is alive today? No, I don’t know,” Brewer-Giorgio told Time magazine. “But I know he didn’t die on 16 August.”

Citing evidence from FBI reports, the writer claims Presley was enlisted as an undercover agent to infiltrate a criminal organisation called The Fraternity, but had to disappear after he was suspected of being a mole.

The Tombstone Tell

Some “Alivers” believe that a clue about Elvis’s fake death can be found in the tombstone on his grave at Graceland. They argue that Presley’s middle name was intentionally misspelt as Aaron, instead of Aron, because the superstitious singer wouldn’t want his real name on a fake grave, AP reports. Those debunking the theory argue that later in life Elvis started spelling his middle name Aaron instead of Aron.

Fighting Mummies

One of the strangest and most entertaining conspiracy theories involves Joe Lansdale’s novella Bubba Ho-Tep, which was turned into a 2002 movie. The movie sees an elderly Elvis, played by Bruce Campbell, living out his days in a nursing home in east Texas. In the film, an ageing Elvis meets an ageing John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), who escaped his assassination attempt and has been “dyed black” for his own protection. The two team up to battle a cowboy-hat-wearing mummy who is terrorising the place. Gizmodo calls the film “totally insane” and possibly “the perfect B-movie”.

Home Alone

Another bizarre theory suggests that The King was a background extra in the classic movie Home Alone, which was released 13 years after his supposed death.

A scene midway through the film shows Catherine O’Hara’s character arguing with an airline employee in a bid to return to her son, whom she accidentally left at home on his own. In the background, a bearded character dressed in a sports coat and turtleneck looks impatient. Some conspiracy theorists believe this is Elvis.

The extra appears to have the same type of beard and mannerisms as the singer and the film is directed by Chris Columbus, who also directed Heartbreak Hotel, about a group of teenagers kidnapping Elvis. The theory goes that Elvis (alive and well) may have seen the first film and asked Columbus to appear in his next movie.

Macaulay Culkin, who plays Kevin McCallister (the letters from which can spell out “I am Elvis”), is seen ten minutes earlier in the film lip syncing to White Christmas with his hair slicked back in a tribute to the King.

South America

NME reports that the day after Elvis’ reported death, a lookalike was spotted at Memphis Airport buying - and subsequently using - a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“Reportedly the man looked like the pop star, and gave the name ‘Jon Burrows’ - an alias of Elvis used when booking hotels for him,” the music news site says. “Could it have actually been him?”

The Pool House photo

Photographer Mike Joseph was visiting the Graceland meditation garden with his family on New Years’ Eve 1977 when he snapped a picture of Elvis sitting behind the pool house door, says NME. Elvis’ road manager Joe Esposito later declared that the person in the photo wasn’t actually Elvis, but Graceland guard Al Strada - though conspiracy theorists are, of course, not convinced.

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