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A look back at Elvis Presley in Chicago on his 80th birthday

Written by
Adam Selzer

Today would be Elvis Presley's 80th birthday. In the spirit of the King, here's a look back at how he was received in Chicago during his early days.

Presley's early appeal seemed bewildering to Chicagoans over the age of 16 or 17. One Tribune article from 1956 about him opened by saying, "Much to everybody's amazement, including his own, the latest singing sensation is a 21-year-old hillbilly whose weepy rendition of a lover's lament called 'Heartbreak Hotel' has zoomed him to the tops in pops.... Wander around his luxury quarters in Las Vegas, Presley looks like a delivery boy who got lost."

In March 1957, when Elvis made his first Chicago appearance at the International Amphitheater, papers noted that Elvis's latest record, "All Shook Up," wasn't selling well, and ticket sales for the concert had fallen flat. They couldn't have gone that flat, though, since 12,000 screaming fans attended, and 30 cops were required to escort him around. Thirteen girls had to be carried out by firemen after passing out, along with one usher who took a purse to the head. Tickets cost between $2.00 and $3.50.

This was to be the only appearance of "Early Elvis" in Chicago. His final local stand was in May 1977, just over twenty years after his first. It would be hard to say that the craze was over, since he could be booked for two straight nights at Chicago Stadium, but the Tribune sadly noted that Elvis just didn't put on that good of a show. While some Elvis fan-sites regard these final Chicago appearances as among the highlights of his 1977 tour, the local press disagreed. "Basically," wrote the Trib's Lynn Von Matre, "a Presley concert amounts to Elvis messing around onstage, the crowd gets to see and hear him and for many, cause of the dreams they've brought with them, that's enough. Those without memories may find the performance less than memorable."

Still, it was Elvis. He may have seemed to spend half the show giving out scarves, but it was Elvis.

"There are better showmen than Presley," Matre had written of one of his 1976 shows, "but there's only one Elvis." 

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