Freeze Frame: Elvis’ haunting final rendition of beloved song came weeks before his death

Elvis Presley remains the undisputed King of rock ‘n’ roll almost 47 years after his death.

His meteoric rise to the top of the entertainment world was swift, as was his shocking death at 42 from a heart attack.

In 1977, he performed a series of concerts for his adoring fans that would end up being his last. Some were filmed for a TV special that was being planned and included a haunting rendition of Unchained Melody on June 21.

Just 56 days after he stepped off the stage, he was dead.

READ MORE: John Lennon super fan captures chilling final photo of idol

Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon and Gladys.

His twin Jesse was delivered stillborn 35 minutes earlier, and this was thought to be partly responsible for his close relationship with his parents, and particularly his mother.

Presley’s interest in music started at church and his first public performance was singing Old Shep at a fair when he was 10.

He received his first guitar for his 11th birthday and was taught to play by his uncles and a church pastor.

After moving to Memphis Tennessee, Presley’s love of music continued to grow and as a teen he would frequent Beale Street, one of the capitals of blues music.

READ MORE: 2011 performance was Amy Winehouse’s last

After leaving school in 1953, Presley headed to a Memphis studio to record two songs as a gift for his mother.

The following year, during a session with a producer, he recorded That’s All Right, which was played on the local radio station.

His debut album Elvis Presley was released in 1956 and became the first rock ‘n’ roll album to top the Billboard charts. It included his first number one hit Heartbreak Hotel.

He started closing his live shows with a rendition of Hound Dog, and female fans would go wild for Presley and his pelvic gyrations, which drew criticism from others.

More hit songs, TV appearances and sold-out concerts followed, and by March 1957, Presley, then just 22, was able to purchase an 18-room mansion known as Graceland to live in with his family.

His first film, Jailhouse Rock, was released in October that year, but Presley’s career was paused when he was drafted into the US army. 

He was given leave from the army in August 1958 to race to his mother’s side before her death.

While in a German army base, Presley, then 24, met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.

His record label continued to release material during his service, which ended in March 1960.

His career restarted immediately, and a cache of films followed, which were tied to soundtracks containing even more hits.

Around Christmas 1966, seven years after they first met, Presley proposed to Beaulieu.

They married on May 1, 1967, in Las Vegas, when she was 21 and he was 32, and their only child, Lisa Marie, was born the following February.

After a slump in record sales, his 1969 album, From Elvis in Memphis, included hits In the Ghetto and Suspicious Minds.

The 70s started with Presley negotiating a five-year deal that would see him play for two months of every year in Las Vegas.

He took to wearing a jumpsuit on stage, which would remain his signature look.

In 1972, Burning Love was released and he and Priscilla separated. Their divorce was finalised the following October, by which time Presley’s health was in decline.

He reportedly overdosed twice that year on barbiturates, and was also treated for an addiction to the strong painkiller pethidine.

Presley continued to tour but journalists described him as overweight, bloated and drug-addled. At times on stage he was incoherent and shows were sometimes cancelled.

After his relationship with girlfriend Linda Thompson ended, he began dating Ginger Alden in November 1976 and they became engaged at the start of 1977.

After a break from touring, he re-emerged in 1977 with a jam-packed schedule of shows starting in Hollywood on February 12.

He would play a leg of the tour lasting up to two weeks and then take a break. He had lost weight and was looking healthier.

The second leg started in Arizona on March 23. He played eight shows before the rest of the leg was cancelled when Presley became unwell and was hospitalised.

The tour resumed on April 21, and continued, off and on, until what ended up being the final leg.

It included a June 19 show in Omaha, Nebraska, and June 21 concert in Rapid City, South Dakota, which were the last to be officially filmed. The footage from both concerts was used for the special Elvis in Concert.

The Rapid City concert included a show-stopping rendition of Unchained Melody and marked the last time he would ever perform the song.

He sat at a piano and played while singing, mostly unaccompanied, for almost three and a half minutes as sweat trickled down his face.

At one point he stopped to smile at the audience, and as the song ended, the crowd erupted into applause.

His final concert was held at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977, where he performed in front of 18,000 fans.

Among the crowd was Rita Rose, a journalist with The Indianapolis Star newspaper, who wrote about the moment he took to the stage.

“And then he appeared, in a gold and white jumpsuit and white boots, bounding onstage with energy that was a relief to everyone.

“At 42, Elvis is still carrying around some excess baggage on his mid-section, but it didn’t stop him from giving a performance in true Presley style.

“His older numbers seemed to draw more applause, although just about everything he did created mass hysteria, especially his ‘leg jerks.’

“The packed arena was indication enough that Elvis is still as popular as ever.”

Presley closed the show with his hit, Can’t Help Falling in Love, before he told the audience, “We’ll meet you again, God bless, adios.”

After the concert, Presley returned to Graceland, where he remained for the next 51 days.

Presley was scheduled to fly out of Memphis to start another tour late on August 16, 1977, but he had spent the previous evening and early hours of the morning suffering dental pain and had visited a dentist.

He was also suffering insomnia, and after taking numerous pills supplied by a dentist and doctor, he went to the bathroom.

Alden, who had fallen asleep, woke that afternoon to find Presley unresponsive on the bathroom floor.

He was rushed to hospital where his death was confirmed at 3.30pm on August 16, 1977.

While a preliminary cause of death was given as “cardiac arrhythmia” or an irregular heartbeat, a myriad of other health problems were later uncovered, all of which possibly contributed to his death, which was eventually ruled a result of a heart attack.