Me…the ‘King’ and ‘Uncle Sam’

Published 9:44 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thirty-nine years ago this coming Tuesday, if you believe it, The King kicked the bucket in his Graceland bathroom, falling prey to booze, pills, fried peanut butter & banana sandwiches, and too much fame.

It was one of those shocking moments in many people’s lives. On a scale with the Kennedy assassination for some, it was a dark day on August 16, 1977.

Growing up, I was a huge Elvis fan. A pre-teen when Elvis was at his zenith, I resisted the corrupting influence of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, eschewing these upstart bands and their popularity with my age group and condemning my peers for being traitors to The King.

I watched Elvis movies and listened to Elvis records and when I started to feel the effects of puberty, I combed my bright red hair into an Elvis wave and begged my mother to let me die it jet-black (she thought I was nuts and refused).

Funny how times have changed. Now kids of that age are getting piercings, tattoos, dying their hair any color they want, and displaying body parts pre-teens didn’t know anything about back in the mid-’60s.

When I’d ask to dye my hair “Elvis black,” my mother would just laugh and say something to the effect that I’d sure be a “purty thing” with my lily-white skin and black hair.

Here we are about 50 years later and there’s a whole subculture of extremely pale, dark haired young people called Goths.

Back in the ‘60s all that bloodletting – common practice among the Goths, I hear – was something only Christopher

Lee did in the plethora of Dracula movies produced by Hammer Films, which I loved.

So I kept my red hair until a much later age, when most of it fell out and the rest turned gray before going white to match my complexion.

Elvis didn’t live long enough to go bald or gray, not that he would have, mind you, because if he’d lived to 100 his hair would have endured.

After the whole puberty thing ended, Elvis was no longer in my life. I no longer watched his movies, if he made any more, and preferred Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.

In fact, I didn’t even think about Elvis any more until I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t heard a new Elvis song in years, but then he came out with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, a song I used to regale my friends with at Harrington Manufacturing Company, where I worked the night shift my senior year – using my hammer for a guitar during smoke breaks and mocking Elvis’ singing and dancing.

I guess during most of my high school years, Elvis became a Las Vegas lounge lizard act, wearing the trademark Elvis impersonator rhinestone white suit, getting fat and puffy-faced, abandoning karate and physical fitness for prescription narcotics, and generally becoming the antithesis of young Elvis, who blazed new trails by mixing elements of white and black musical genres into something entirely new and exciting.

On Aug. 16, 1977, the day my enlistment with the Army ended, I heard on the radio that Elvis had been found dead. It was shocking to hear that one of my childhood idols had died, but I was far less concerned about that than I was about what I was going to do now that I was a civilian.

I hadn’t given any thought to “what next?” when I got my honorable discharge. I was actually surprised that I didn’t reenlist because I kept thinking about being able to retire when I was just 38.

Every year in mid-August the world commemorates The King on the anniversary of his untimely death and I’m saddened because his passing also marked the passing of a treasured part of what I consider my childhood – my four years in the Army.


Keith Hoggard is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7206.