Elvis Presley might have died an inglorious death on August 16 thirty-one years ago, but there is no doubt that he is one of the most important singers ever.
Like most icons, Presley transcended his profession to become a phenomenon in almost all spheres of life. He affected music, culture, politics and even sexuality.
Before he was found face down, dead on his bathroom floor at age 42, Presley lived that chequered life which feeds any kind of myth, praise, ridicule and awe.
Presley is not a legend just because he was the first one to do something that would live forever; he also served as the blueprint. Others following him would have to deconstruct his style and method to emulate if they wanted success.
Neither would Presley be so huge if he was just a singer. He had hips. He could move them. Women swooned, guys envied him and the religious folk saw the devil incarnate in him.
He was a singer, performer and sexual revolutionary. He was the first performer ever to bring such blatant unabashed sexuality to the mainstream. In one of his earlier performances on TV, executives were so nervous of his wildness that he had to be filmed from the waist up.
For most of his career, Presley was managed by the legendary Colonel Parker. They had an acrimonious relationship, but they managed to have a hold over the music industry to the point where his accomplishments became staggering.
Presley has sold more than a billion records worldwide. He has the most number of gold, platinum and multi-platinum certifications worldwide. He has 149 chart topping singles, with 18 of them making it to No.1.
He was also the first rock star to make a successful crossover to movies. Though he always wanted to prove himself as a serious actor, he starred in mediocre roles in B grade movies. This was mainly because of Colonel Parker and his lack of vision. But these movies were huge commercial successes because Presley appeared in them.
Presley would have died an earlier death of anonymity if it wasn't for his monumental comeback in 1968. For some years before this, he had languished.
Beatle mania was taking over and Presley also served in the war for a few years. His fame took a backseat till he came back in 1968 with performances in Las Vegas. It was his first performance in eight years and is considered the best comeback in music history.
Aspiring musicians in India are also unabashed about this admiration for Presley and his influence on them. The sheer number of his hits belted out at concerts today makes him seem a contemporary artist.
Jonathan Mesen, a theology student from Nagaland, who is an active musician, cites Presley as a major influence, saying: "Though Presley had roots in gospel music and excelled in using that to talk about love, he ultimately lost his way when he tried to find it within himself and others."
Presley died a lonely man. He struggled with drug addiction, though not the recreational kind. He was disillusioned with fame in the later years of his life.
But for what he created, in music, performances and his charisma, he will always be as big as he is now. Long live the king!
(Sevanand Gaddala can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )