It was 1968, and Elvis Presley had hit a rough patch.
At 33 years old, he was an international celebrity and had just welcomed his first child with his wife of less than a year, Priscilla. But his career seemed to have plateaued. His singles weren’t charting as well as they had in the past, and his films weren’t received with the critical acclaim that one might expect of a movie with his name on the marquee. “The King,” it seemed, was on the verge of relinquishing his throne.
But then, a breakthrough. Elvis’ agent finagled a deal with NBC for a television special, simply called “Elvis.” It was a gamble. Elvis hadn’t performed live in seven years. But the special turned out to be a huge hit, racking up 42 percent of NBC’s total viewing audience that season. Soon enough, the offers started coming in for Elvis to start performing live again. He took a gig at the newly-constructed International Hotel in Las Vegas, which had the city’s largest showroom at the time, and showed everyone why he was still “The King.” The performance turned from a one month engagement to a five year residency with Elvis playing gigs at the hotel in February and August.
To this day, Elvis’ time in Las Vegas remains a topic of contention. Some say that Las Vegas was the beginning of the end for Presley, the time when his drug use and disenchantment with his career began to spiral out of control. But others, like author and journalist Richard Zoglin, say that Elvis’ run in Vegas was the spark that ignited his comeback to music and set the tone for every major artist’s Vegas residency that would follow.
Today on AirTalk, Larry speaks with author Zoglin about how Las Vegas revitalized Elvis’ career and how he created the prototype for what we know today as the Las Vegas residency.
Richard Zoglin, author of “Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show” (Simon & Schuster, August 2019); he is a contributing editor for TIME Magazine and tweets @rzoglin