On August 16, 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee it was already 93 degrees at 2:30 pm. The humidity hung thick in the air – leaving anyone who ventured outside of the comfort of air conditioning sticky and moist. The world was only moments away from learning that one of its most famous and beloved entertainers had died.
It was unconscionable that Elvis Presley was gone. Yes, he was suffering from an array of health conditions and was battling a now well-known dependence on prescription drugs, but he was only 42-years-old. He seemed bigger than life. He was making plans for the future. Then it all just stopped.
Among the plans he had made was to marry his fiancee Ginger Alden. She was a home grown Memphis beauty; every bit the quintessential Southern lady. The two already planned what was to be a beautiful wedding. Elvis was planning to publicly announce their pending marriage during his tour.
Until then, though everyone in their inner circle knew Elvis had proposed, when not wearing it, Ginger kept the gorgeous custom made engagement ring in her bathroom at Graceland for security. It was also an attempt to be sensitive until they could tell his daughter Lisa Marie of their plans to wed. Lisa seemed to adore Ginger and was photographed on more than one occasion sitting on her lap. They needn’t have worried about her reaction. Lisa, who was playing in Ginger’s bathroom with a friend, discovered the ring, Her friend told her what the ring meant. Later, catching her off guard, she asked Ginger if she was going to marry her Daddy. “I hope so,” Ginger answered. She knew it was important to Elvis to tell Lisa in his own way and tried to be cautious. Lisa was happy to hear it. Shortly after, Elvis, who was relieved the cat was out of the bag, sat down with Lisa to give her the news formally. All was good.
Then suddenly everything became a blur.
Thousands gathered at the gates of Graceland. The heat was overwhelming and medics were brought in to help. Many not already in Memphis, got in their cars or on planes and made their way to his funeral; including celebrities such as James Brown, Ann-Margret, and Sammy Davis Jr. Even not-yet-famous, Bill Murray dropped everything and flew to Memphis, knowing it was going to be a “cultural phenomenon.” Graceland was overrun with grief and the decision was made to allow fans to file past his coffin in a public viewing – a surreal experience. As the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery, the occasional fan rushed to the hearse only to be pulled away by one of the many law enforcement officers lining the roadway. Once at Forest Hill Cemetery, a sea of flowers covered the grounds. In fact, on August 17, 1977, more flowers were sold in one day than at any other time in history.
Elvis was later moved back to Graceland after a plot to steal his body from its tomb was thwarted by police.
Already pushed aside was Ginger. Young, in grief-stricken shock, and gentile by nature, she didn’t protest. She hid out at her mother’s home as she was bombarded by interview requests. All of which she tried to ignore or refuse. Then came the threats – threats that indicated if she didn’t speak with the press they’d print what they wanted -truth be damned. Others in the inner circle, she was told, had already talked with them. So, in an effort to placate the press, she agreed. It was a desperate attempt for peace that ended up casting her in a negative light. Elvis had warned her that people would want to hurt her out of jealousy and he was right. There were other regrettable decisions made in the aftermath of his death, but few have caused the most negative talk than when her mother had to file a claim seeking payment for the modest house Elvis had promised to buy for her. What people don’t realize is that her mother had just divorced, and had made financial decisions around that generous offer. She was facing homelessness. Also, it is completely normal for claims to be made toward the estate of a deceased person during the Probate Court period. Most states allow 18 months for a claim (or bill) to be presented as an estates assets are sorted out. Without getting into the specifics, it’s a known fact that Ginger’s family was absolutely not the only people close to Elvis to do so. There are hard decisions people have to confront when someone passes away – famous or not – and Probate matters are one of those.
Ginger quietly took all of the nasty comments and abuse for decades after Elvis died. But, in 2015, she finally wrote a book to tell her side of their story. A critical success, “Elvis and Ginger: Elvis Presley’s Fiancée and Last Love Finally Tells Her Story” reached the New York Times Bestseller list and has received the 2018 Ella Dickey Literacy Award.
If they haven’t yet, Elvis admirers the world over should embrace the position Ginger held in Elvis’s final days. He loved and respected her. She loved him in return, and gave him joy and hope for a bright future.