Elvis Presley's Last Nebraska Performance
By Breanna Fanta, Editorial Assistant
While Elvis Presley, famed “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” didn’t have direct ties to Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln were the sites for two of his final performances in the summer of 1977. Omaha was selected as the location for a CBS television special, “Elvis Presley Live.” But the suave and formerly scandalous heartthrob lacked his usual stage presence. When the show was broadcasted after the singer’s death on August 16, it was apparent that the 42-year-old had been in poor health.
Omaha was one of the few cities where Elvis performed that year, and when asked about doing a TV special, Presley and his manager agreed for it to be done in Omaha. CBS paid $1 million to record the show.
On the day of the performance, June 19, network security refused to let any reporters or local photographers take pictures or ask questions pre-performance. With a total of 72 CBS network personnel, The King was “amid extra security.” During the concert, the auditorium was packed and some audience viewing was obstructed by the cameras. The following day, the CBS crew hoped to attend the Lincoln performance, but the Pershing Auditorium manager, Ivan Hoig, refused. Hoig explained that it was too late and they should’ve requested to tape prior to ticket sales. The concert was sold out, but CBS managed to tape from the lobby and from outside. (CBS ended up filming a June 21 concert in Rapid City, SD; portions of both the Omaha and Rapid City shows appeared in the TV special.)
At the beginning of the Omaha show, Presley swaggered on stage wearing his usual charming grin. However, his on-stage behavior was more subdued than usual. Steve Millburg, an Omaha World-Herald review columnist, described Presley’s ill appearance. It was clear that time had taken a toll on The King. His flashy jumpsuit was cut a lot fuller and his dance moves were “reduced mostly to leg twitches and an occasional shake.” He appeared puffy, as though he were retaining fluids. It was the same man and style, but the enthusiasm seemed lost. While singing hits like “Jailhouse Rock,” the once lively and loud rock star’s spirit only appeared in flashes. Initial public reaction only alluded to this and shied away from directly commenting on any of it: letters to the World-Herald simply praised the performance, saying Elvis would “always” or “still” be The King.
After Elvis’s unexpected death in August, Jimmy O’Neill, a former program director and DJ for the KRCB radio, stated that he “[hated] to remember the way [Presley] looked at his last concert in Omaha.” O’Neill explained that it used to be so easy for Elvis, but that day he looked burnt out and tired.
One of Elvis’s former bodyguards soon gave interviews detailing the star’s drug addiction and its effect on his health. He said that Presley took pills for everyday activities such as waking up, using the restroom, and falling asleep. He would also use or inject himself before performances. “All he [wanted] to do was get himself completely out of his head.”
Captured in the TV lights, there was no disguising Elvis’s physical condition. Even so, he was still the man adored by his fans, who still cheered him and his music, enjoying every bit of it regardless of how he looked. For Nebraskans, Elvis Presley’s final performances in the state would never be forgotten.
Read about Elvis’s first Nebraska performances in 1956.
Top: Omaha World Herald, June 20th, 1977. "Fans snap pictures while Elvis sings."
Bottom: Omaha World Herald, August 17th, 1977. "20 Years of Elvis"
Elvis Presley, Omaha, Lincoln