Heartburn Hotel: Eating Like Elvis In His Final Days
Today is the 36th anniversary of Elvis' death. Let's celebrate the delicious food that killed him.
On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died. If maths isn’t your strong point, that’s 36 years ago today.
Sing it, Fat Elvis.
By now, it’s common knowledge that he croaked on the crapper, one of those final indignities like AC/DC’s Bon Scott choking on his own spew or Michael Hutchence’s other kinda choking. In his book, Careless Love: The Unmasking Of Elvis Presley, author Peter Guralnick gets explicit in his description of the mortal scene: Elvis, who’d headed off to the bathroom with a book on The Shroud Of Turin (weirdo), was found the following day by his fiancee, who “discovered him lying on the floor, his gold pyjamas down around his ankles, his face buried in a pool of vomit in the shag carpet.”
That sad scene provides a picture of the kinda life of excess that Elvis was living in his final days — his bathroom had shag carpeting! At the time of his death, he weighed 159 kilograms, bloated from a stream of Quaaludes and other drugs and a ridiculous diet that had him reportedly knocking back 10-12,000 calories per day (the average person needs about 2,000). At a New Year’s gig at the Silver Dome in Michigan the previous year, he did one of his patented karate moves and split his pants.
Even at the time, the media published nutso rumours galore. Esquire ran a lighthearted article in the ’60s mentioning that Elvis washed down each meal “with several Pepsis” (apparently, he drank so much of it, it was delivered in bulk direct to Graceland by Pepsi’s distribution lorries). He’d eat breakfast at 4pm, usually a pound of bacon, said the tabloids. He ate beef for every meal, said his chef. He ate so many Spanish omelettes that he created an egg shortage in Tennessee. “Rumours also claimed that he once ate 30 cups of yogurt, 8 honeydew melons, and a hundred dollars worth of ice cream bars in one night,” reported Susan Doll, PhD in her book, Elvis For Dummies.
So yeah, Elvis liked to eat. And we do too.
Elvis grew up poor in the backwoods of Tupelo, Mississippi, eating fried squirrels like some sorta apocalyptic hero. It’s no wonder he went nuts with food when he became rich. He hired a cook-staff to work at Graceland 24-hours a day, and kept one of the screens in his closed-circuit TV room permanently fixed to the kitchen. In her book Fit For A King: The Elvis Presley Cookbook, author Elizabeth McKeown notes that Elvis demanded that the following supplies be on-hand in Graceland’s kitchen pantry at all times:
– fresh, lean, unfrozen ground meat
– one case regular Pepsi
– one case orange drinks
– hot rolls
– cans of biscuits (at least six)
– hamburger buns
– cans of sauerkraut
– at least three bottles of milk, including half & half
– thin, lean bacon
– peanut butter
– banana pudding (to be made each night)
– ingredients for meat loaf and sauce
– ice cream (vanilla and chocolate)
– shredded coconut
– fudge cookies
– gum (Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicy Fruit — three of each)
And then he’d eat them all in one sitting. Lols jokes, but I did skip a few ’cause my hands got tired from typing this ridiculous list. Sorry Elvis, banana pudding is a ‘sometime food’.
If you’ve ever visited Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, you’ll know that you can morbidly wander across the road and buy one of these sandwiches from the local cafe for a measly $2.50 or so (I bought this postcard from one of Graceland’s many gift shops, because I had to get my mum a souvenir to permanently fix to her fridge and this one cost just 20 cents).
The sandwich is widely reported to have been Elvis’s favourite food — a simple pan-fried concoction of white bread slices, mashed bananas and an unholy amount of peanut butter (no one ever specifies if The King liked crunchy or smooth) — and he’d allegedly knock back two per day (each one contains about 92% of the recommended daily fat intake for an average adult).
His nutcase indulgence
On February 1, 1976, Elvis and his closet ‘Memphis Mafia’ pals were entertaining some Colorado cops in Graceland’s Jungle Room (it has palm trees and a waterfall), when Elvis casually recalled the greatest sandwich he’d ever eaten (he must’ve talked about sandwiches a lot). Hours later, after a 1,300-mile journey from Memphis to Denver aboard his private jet (the ‘Lisa Marie’), the entire gang were happily munching away on the ‘Fool’s Gold Loaf’, so-called because it came in a $100-combo with a bottle of Dom Perignon.
According to the e-book What The Great Ate by Mark Jacob, the Fool’s Gold Loaf was basically “an entire loaf of Italian bread, hollowed out, and filled with peanut butter, grape jam, and an entire pound of bacon.” It had 42,000 calories, which is a bit like eating a chubby child (I don’t know).
Elvis carried this nonsense through to the very end: his final meal was reportedly four scoops of ice cream and six chocolate chip cookies (that’s not too bad). Appropriately, after his death, rumours emerged that Elvis’s body had been dug up and turned into burger patties, which rock-crit Greil Marcus covers hilariously in his great cultural study, Dead Elvis. A more empathetic final memory, though, comes from that other legendary rock-crit Lester Bangs, who recalled seeing Elvis perform live in ’71 in a piece titled ‘Where Were You When Elvis Died?’, published in the Village Voice two weeks after The King’s death:
“There was Elvis, dressed up in this ridiculous white suit which looked like some studded Arthurian castle, and he was too fat, and the buckle on his belt was as big as your head except that your head is not made of solid gold, and any lesser man would’ve been the spittin’ image of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, but on Elvis it fit.”
Whatever, when I think of Elvis, I just get hungry.