My friend, whose name is Jim too, and I have been arguing about how Elvis died (although we do agree that the King has in fact died). I maintain the royal death occurred while Elvis was sitting on the porcelain throne with a stroke book in one hand and his scepter in the other. Jim says otherwise. So I have three questions: (1) What was the King doing when he died? (2) If I had included Jim’s full name and noted that he doesn’t want his full name published in this letter, would you be more or less likely to publish his full name? (3) Is it true Elvis died for our sins? –Jim K., Havre de Grace, Maryland
(3) What makes you think you’ve committed sins worth dying for? (2) Only if he says something really stupid and I want to maximize his embarrassment. Of the two of you, I’d say Jim II has less to worry about. (1) Have you no respect for departed royalty? It’s true Elvis was in the bathroom at Graceland when he died. But so far as can be determined, he was neither waxing his wick nor, as an alternative legend has it, “straining stool.” On the contrary, he was sitting in a chair next to the pot reading a book about, believe it or not, the Shroud of Turin. Elvis’s bathroom doubled as a dressing room and he camped out there whenever the pressure of being a living god became too intense.
My source here is Albert Goldman’s lurid bio Elvis (1981). Goldman took every opportunity to portray Elvis as a pathetic sleaze and would have jumped all over a story like this had there been any basis to it. But here’s how he describes the discovery of the body by Elvis’s fiancee, Ginger Alden:
“Getting out of bed she crossed the room and knocked on the door. ‘Elvis?’ she called. . . . Finally, she opened the door and peeped inside. What she saw was Elvis doubled up face down on the floor, almost as if he were in a fetal position. Clearly, he had been sitting in the black leather and chrome chair reading and had toppled forward onto the floor. The book was still lying on the chair.” Another source identifies the book as The Face of Jesus by Frank Adams.
OK, so it’s not Shakespeare. And maybe he was pumped full of drugs while he read it. (Goldman has since convinced himself, on scant evidence, that Elvis committed suicide by intentional overdose.) Still, in post-Gutenberg America, anybody whose idea of fun is to shoot out TV sets and curl up with a good book can’t be all bad.
PICKING PRESIDENTS: A NEW PARADIGM
I read with interest your article discussing the Longer Body (Greater Height) and Longer Name hypotheses in predicting the outcome of American presidential elections [January 17]. To help you further with the political education of your readers, I would like to share a rule which correctly predicts every election since the modern American politico-economic system began under FDR: a president with an unusual first name always alternates with a president with a common first name–Franklin, Harry, Dwight, John, Lyndon, Richard, Gerald, Jimmy, Ronald, George.
Ignore the occasional nitpicker who does not think Gerald is all that unusual a name, and you have a powerful analytical tool. While either John (Kennedy) or Richard (Nixon) could have followed Dwight (Eisenhower), and George (Bush) and Michael (Dukakis) both had a chance after Ronald, Adlai Stevenson could no more unseat Dwight than Hubert (Humphrey) could succeed Lyndon.
The acid test of any theory, of course, is in predicting the future. To put it on the line: neither Paul (Tsongas) nor Bill (Clinton) nor Tom (Harkin) nor Jerry (Brown) nor Dick (Gephardt) nor, for that matter, Pat (Buchanan) has a prayer of replacing George. Mario (Cuomo) or Jesse (Jackson) could, but they may want to wait until 1996, when the Republicans will be stuck with Dan (Quayle), Jack (Kemp), or Dick (Cheney). Pierre duPont would be their only hope, unless he pursues the chimera of populism by insisting on being called Pete. –Juozas Algimantas Kazlas (a common name, but only in Lithuania), New York
Not to give anybody ideas, Joe. But if Mario and Jesse have opted out, there’s always (blush) Cecil.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.