Suddenly, many of the rock & roll legend’s peers are passing away after a long life.
When Memphis radio DJ George Klein, the late Elvis Presley’s best friend, died on Feb. 5, he was not the first or the second or even the third but the fourth of Elvis’s friends, colleagues, and peers to pass away in the first few weeks of the year. Klein’s death comes on the quick heels of two of Elvis’s recording-studio guitarists, Reggie Young (Jan. 17) and Harold Bradley (Jan. 21). All three men died of natural causes in their 80s and 90s. So did Elvis’s longtime drummer, D.J. Fontana, just a few months ago. And Elvis’s stepbrother, the evangelist Rick Stanley, died just last week, in his 60s.
It’s a sobering perspective to have so many of Elvis’s peers pass quietly away in a cluster like this. It underlines a weird truth: Now, demographically speaking, is when Elvis, an American man born in 1935 who attained a high standard of wealth and comfort, should have died. Now. In 2019, give or take a certain margin of unpredictability. Not in 1977.
If the broad statistics of life and death applied at the individual level, Elvis should have lived through punk rock, the New Wave, grunge. He should have lived to see hip hop supplant rock & roll as the revolutionary youth music of two generations. He should have outlived his cheesy Vegas lounge singer phase and done like Johnny Cash, connecting with young musicians and songwriters to produce startlingly beautiful new work in his old age.
Elvis should have had the chance to duet with Springsteen, with Mariah Carey, with Michael Jackson. We should have heard him croon in harmony with Harry Connick Jr., shake his booty alongside Shakira, catch a groove with Bruno Mars.
And, setting aside the art for a moment to focus on the man, Elvis should have gotten to see his daughter grow up. He should have gotten to meet his grandchildren.
But death doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t come only when it “should,” doesn’t come only when we’re “old enough.” Every life ends when it ends. We know how long the average person in a group might be expected to live, but there’s no way to apply that to any one single person, who might outlive the statistics by 20 years or depart decades earlier through tragic circumstances.
Elvis was called the King. He had the world at his fingertips. He was widely beloved, both by those who knew him and those who didn’t. He lived remarkably, and he died at 42, only half the age he might have been had things been different.
Time is precious. We need to find ways to live with that awareness. Do the things that are meaningful to us. Care for those we love. Value what’s important.