The man, not the legend

Another biography of Elvis Presley, another opportunity to wonder what went wrong. And to imagine what might have happened if The King had said yes to La Streisand. From my review in The Times:

Two years before his death, when he creatively is in the doldrums, Barbra Streisand arrives in his Vegas dressing room and offers him the joint lead in her remake of A Star Is Born. Who knows what effect that sort of challenge could have had on his failing career? Sadly, a combination of a lack of self-confidence and the avaricious contractual demands of his infamous, all-controlling manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, put an end to that deal.

It is part of Presley’s tragedy that, although he adored the movies, it was Hollywood that did so much to undermine his talent. Parker, always eager to chase an easy payout, took the earliest opportunity to harness his client to a treadmill of inferior film roles that became Presley’s principal conduit to his audience during what should have been his peak years…Desperate for ready cash to sustain his lavish spending — he gave cars to hangers-on in the same way that mere mortals hand out sweets — Presley locked himself in to a process that made him a laughing stock among a new generation raised on the Beatles. It was small comfort that the Fab Four were his fans too, and made a point of making a pilgrimage to see him at Graceland.

After Presley’s death, as Connolly points out, the films faded from the public consciousness. The music was once again the centre of attention, and pop critics who once poured scorn on the man in the gaudy, rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit began to reassess his legacy. Strip away the kitsch trappings, forget Paradise, Hawaiian Style and other cinematic duds, and you rediscover the voice and charisma of an unworldly performer who had the rare ability to synthesise blues, gospel and country music. It was a mysterious, instinctive talent, and one that seemed unfathomable even to the man who possessed it.

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