Hoosiers remember ‘The King’ on 40th anniversary of final performance

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Forty years ago, one 16-year-old girl stood among 18,000 other people in the presence of Elvis Presley at Market Square Arena – a day she remembers as one of the best days of her life.

Jeanne Drews (left) and her sister pose with a plaque they created for Elvis Presley. They gifted Presley with the plaque at his final concert in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. Photo contributed by Jeanne Drews

Just feet away from the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Jeanne Drews of Indianapolis idolized Mr. Presley from the front row, hoping for the chance to touch his hand.

“He gave the performance of a lifetime,” Drews said. “He gave it his all.”

But what Drews did not realize that summer night — June 26, 1977 — was that it would be the last time she would ever witness the King perform.

A plaque addressed to “The King” hangs in Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion. Jeanne Drews and her sister gifted Presley with the plaque at his final concert in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. Photo contributed by Jeanne Drews

The sold-out show in Indianapolis was Presley’s final performance before dying of a heart attack just two months later on Aug. 16, 1977.

Drews camped outside of the famed arena with her mother, brother and two sisters for 24 hours as they waited in line to purchase $15 front row tickets. It was a dream come true for Drews, who had only seen Elvis once before when she was 12 years old.

“I know me and my two sisters didn’t have voices when we left Market Square Arena the night of the concert,” Drews said. “To be there front row, that close to somebody like Elvis Presley was very heart throbbing, very surreal. He was a king to us.”

Former Indianapolis Star Assistant Entertainment Editor Rita Rose was on assignment the night of the concert. Far from the front row that night in 1977, Rose wrote that she sat in the nosebleeds but the concert was proof that Elvis still had every bit of talent. Rose’s review of his performance was a favorable one, writing Elvis showed up “giving a performance in true Presley style.”

But Zach Dunkin, former Indianapolis News critic, thought otherwise in his review following the concert.

“It’s time ardent Presley fans quit protecting their idol and start demanding more,” he wrote in the review, published on June 27, 1977. “They know ‘the King’ can do better.”

Recalling the night, Rose said Presley’s name could be found anywhere and everywhere in the arena — “on posters, buttons, souvenir books, T-shirts, hats and homemade clothes that proclaimed with personal touches, admiration for a man idolized by millions.”

A plaque addressed to “The King” hangs in Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion. Jeanne Drews and her sister gifted Presley with the plaque at his final concert in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. Photo contributed by Jeanne Drews

But the question, Rose wrote, that was looming in everyone’s minds was whether Presley had gained weight. Presley shocked Hoosiers when he came to Indiana two years earlier having gained weight.

“As the lights in the arena was turned down after intermission, you could feel a silent plea rippling through the audience: Please, Elvis, don’t be fat,” Rose wrote. “And then he appeared, in a gold and white jumpsuit and white boots, bounding onstage with energy that was a relief to everyone.”

Dunkin wrote Presley couldn’t move like he used to, but could sing when he tried, which he did twice “magnificently” during the concert.

As soon as Presley walked on stage, Drews remembers a god entering the room.

In a scrapbook, Drews keeps all her souvenirs from the show, including her $15 ticket stub and a poem from someone after the show who described Presley’s powerful nature and voice. One item she does not have in her book, but instead is framed on her sister’s wall, is a postcard addressed to Drews and her sister from Presley himself.

She and her sister created a plaque for Presley, which he later thanked them for in a handwritten letter the next week. The plaque, which thanks Presley for his talent and influence, currently hangs amid several other fan gifts at Presley’s Graceland mansion.

Now, on the 40th anniversary of Presley’s final performance, Drews can’t help but remember the impact Presley had on her life.

“I grew up listening to him,” she said. “I still have all of his albums. To me, there is no one who can ever sing like him ever.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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