Elvis Dies at 42 Forty Two Years Ago
Events that stun the world mark us all. Our grandparents knew exactly what they were doing when they heard Pearl Harbor was bombed. Young adults remember what they were doing in school when they heard of the New York terror attacks in 2001.
People of a certain age remember the moment they heard the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Aaron Presley had passed away, August 16, 1977.
In 1977 before the digital age, news was spread by wire services that were connected via telephone lines to radio and TV stations across the country. The telephone line plugged into a large printer of a sort, a teletype machine.
The old wire services had a schedule of bells they could remotely ring whenever an important news story developed. The bell was inside the machine and sounded something like an desk bell you might ring for service in a small shop.
For instance, a refinery fire or explosion someplace in the country, the newsflash would move across the wires with say three bells. Something like the mass shootings we incur these days would likely produce an alarm of six bells, repeated a few times. Depending on the weight of the story, more bells are set to alarm.
Must've been about ten or eleven o'clock in the morning in Houston. I was in the special studio of the radio station used to make commercials when I heard a raucous cacophony of bells emanating from the newsroom. In my short (then) career in broadcasting I'd never heard anything like it. It was like ten telephones ringing while twenty people banged on a desk bell for service at the same time.
What could be happening? One of the large refineries around us is going up? The Russians are invading Galveston? The flurry of bells meant everyone in the building was now entering the hallways drifting toward the newsroom.
The news director already in the room when the walls caved in had ripped the first double-spread all-caps headlines off the teletype, he was still looking down at the paper when he noticed about seven of us crowded into the doorway.
He slowly looked up at us and then over his reading glasses and said softly Elvis is dead.
A secretary had just seen him perform in Houston a few months prior broke into uncontrollable tears, others were in disbelief. We all grabbed at the floods of paper being spit out of the printer. Alerts, Bulletins, Updates. They kept flooding in, it was true, Elvis indeed had finally left the building.
Today and through history millions of lines have been written about his life, his lifestyle and almost every breath he ever took. This post was about us, the fans, and the effect his leaving had on us all.