August 1998

Down at the End of Lonely Street

By Peter Harry Brown
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The more we learn about Elvis Presley, the more sad and pathetic his life seems to have been. Presley's apologists will maintain, of course, that his music and presence were so world-changing that they render all his other personal characteristics moot. But as the audience that was initially transformed by his music grows older, the bulk of the population is left with the image of a man whose excesses ate him alive. That is basically the story Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske relate in Down at the End of Lonely Street: The Life and Death of Elvis Presley.

Without ignoring or minimizing Presley's astounding talent and charisma, the authors provide us a parallel account of his descent into an exhausting and ultimately joyless hedonism. It reveals a man for whom solitude was horrifying and whose most creative thinking was devoted to the acquisition of drugs. Squeezed on the one side by his hard-driving, Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and on the other by his own insatiable appetites for food, women, drugs, and respect, Presley is as doomed as the hero in a Greek tragedy but without the moral stature. The singer shines brightest in this book during his days as a conscientious, high-achieving soldier in Germany. Although Brown and Broeske cover much the same ground as the legion of other Presley biographers, they do offer a more thorough and up-to-date account of his death and a more charitable assessment of Presley's personal physician, the much vilified George Dr. Nick Nichopoulos. Enriching the text, which is indexed, are 16 pages of pictures, a chronology of Presley's entire life, a list (with summaries) of all his movies, a selective discography, and a list of his television appearances.

Edward Morris is a Nashville-based journalist.

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