The King Is Dead. Long Live the King

Reviewed by Joe Heim
Sunday, August 20, 2006


The Life of Elvis Presley

By Charles L. Ponce De Leon

Hill and Wang. 242 pp. $26


My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley

By Jerry Schilling with Chuck Crisafulli

Gotham. 351 pp. $26

Eclipsing presidents and pop stars alike, Elvis Presley is arguably the most recognizable figure in American history. So it really should not have surprised anyone that when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi traveled to the United States in June, he chose to visit not Monticello, Mount Vernon or Hyde Park, but Graceland, the Memphis mansion where Presley spent the majority of his adult life. It was, Koizumi said, "a dream come true." Still think the King's impression isn't a lasting one?

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977, and two new, very different books kick off what will certainly be an extended period of reflection, remembrance and, perhaps, reevaluation of an artist at once intensely familiar and yet so laminated in legend and lore that the truth of who he was can seem almost beyond knowing.

Charles Ponce De Leon takes a half-hearted crack at unraveling the Presley myth in Fortunate Son: The Life of Elvis Presley , a heavily footnoted biography that reads less as a compelling new take on the superstar than an overlong Wikipedia entry. Cribbing much of its material from the two volumes of Peter Guralnik's seminal biography ( Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley and Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley ), the book is a synthesis of turf that has already been covered in countless other publications.

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