Human Flower Project

Elvis: Rose Tonic and Floral Guitars

Radiance brings out the flowers. And the King of Rock and Roll was never shy about accepting a bloom or two.


Elvis Presley wearing one of many leis in his Aloha from Hawaii TV special, 1973

Back in the crew-cut, button-down early ‘50s, Elvis Presley wore pink suits and slicked his hair back with rose oil tonic. Oh, to have inhaled Beale Street back then!

The King broke so many of the rules of performance—mixing musical styles, straining fashion, flaunting androgeny—and most of his revolutions have been pressed forward by succeeding generations of entertainers. Yet in 2010 we still rarely see a man so comfortable with flowers. For the King’s 75th birthday, we’ve pulled together just a few souvenirs.


Elvis and his mother, Gladys Presley, look through a magazine

Here are Elvis with his beloved mother Gladys, thumbing through what looks like a movie magazine. “I only keep the good reviews,” Elvis once said in an interview. Mama would have it no other way, and looks on here with a gardenia corsage.


For his wedding to Priscilla Beaulieu, May 1967, Elvis sported a peppery white carnation boutonniere, a floral understatement that sets off his lovely bride and lovelier white teeth.


Many of Elvis’s best known floral interludes occurred in Hawaii. The shot at top comes from his TV special Aloha from Hawaii, 1973 – for its time, the most watched broadcast by an individual entertainer in television history.  No big surprise, Elvis was showered with leis and kisses each time he visited the islands. This photo from his 1957 tour shows the King looking a bit jet lagged, his cheeks smeared with lipstick traces and his neck laden with plumeria (perhaps orchids).


A fan meets the King (and the Colonel) on Elvis’s first tour of Hawaii, 1957

Here Elvis wearing two long orchid leis poses with a wonderfully prim-looking fan and the omnipresent Colonel Parker, his manager.

imageElvis arrives in Honolulu in January 1973 for his Aloha from Hawaii TV special

Between 1961 and 1965, Elvis made three movies in Hawaii, chock full of surf,  ukelele strumming, and flowered shirts. So his 1973 TV special marked a kind of homecoming. Here’s a neat shot from Honolulu airport upon his arrival. Travel times must have been shrunk considerably since his transpacific flight of the ‘50s, as the King here looks fresh as a white hibiscus blossom.

The Aloha from Hawaii program was planned as a live broadcast, and came off without a hitch. But playing it safe, Presley taped a rehearsal. We risk melting down true Elvis fans with this clip of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” the King in his bejeweled jumpsuit and cape kneeling stagefront to receive leis and kisses. Watch at your own risk.

Sadly, this is the most enduring floral image of the King, the “Meditation Garden” outside Graceland in Memphis, where Elvis, his parents and grandmother are all buried. We visited Graceland for the first time in late December, a dreary day, though “the mansion” was heavily decorated and lit up for Christmas.

imageElvis Presley’s grave, Meditation Garden, Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Photo: Human Flower Project

On our mini-bus alone – and they’re shuttling up the drive every ten minutes all day long—there were visitors from India and Argentina joining folks from across the U.S. Despite the rain, everyone streamed out to the gravesite, standing with umbrellas to gaze.

Another photo (below), taken on a sunnier day several years ago, gives a sense of the floral multitude. This part of the mid-South still favors lavish easel displays: cracked hearts, crosses, telephones, and of course, floral guitars.

We learned that the TCB arrangement shown here stands for “Taking Care of Business,” Elvis’s loyal backup band. The lightning bolt was its emblem.

On leaving, we spotted this sign, a courteous explanation of how floral gifts are handled.

The flowers and tribute displays placed at the gravesites have been sent or brought by Elvis fans from all over the world. These arrive almost daily. The number increases somewhat around Elvis’s birthday and each August around the anniversary of his death. Our policy is to accept these floral remembrances whether they are fresh, silk or plastic. Arrangements of real flowers are sometimes placed in the raquetball building so they will last longer, but most are placed here in the garden and remain until they wilt. Silk and plastic arrangements remain until they begin to show the effects of the weather.


Decorations at the Meditation Garden, Graceland

Photo: Paul Wigowsky

As always – but, actually, more than ever – we invite readers to send along their own floral remembrances of Elvis Presley. And we’ll add one more – this glorious photo, undated, from his prime. Yes, there’s a small floral decoration on the pickguard of his guitar, but the most luscious flower of America’s 20th Century was human.


Elvis Aron Presley (January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977)

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/07 at 10:40 PM


Julie, I loved your wonderful tribute to Elvis and his floral exuberance. It was a good tonic.

As my flight from Baltimore touched down in Louisville last night, Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” started playing over the loudspeaker.  I’d been patted down going through security in Baltimore, was annoyed to no end and was glad to be home. I thought the song was a sweet touch. It reminded me that we’d last seen temperatures above freezing about the time of the blue moon in late December – the second of two full moons that month. The young woman seated next to me muttered something about country music as she packed her iPod. I told her Bill Monroe was the Father of Bluegrass Music.  She rolled her eyes as he picked his mandolin and sang, “Shine on the one who has gone and said goodbye.” With a “Listen here Missy” stare and the wag of a finger, I told her that Elvis had recorded the same song on the flipside of “That’s All Right Mama.” Before she had a chance to say, “So what?” I asked if she knew that today was Elvis’s 75th birthday? “That’s pretty old,” she said. “Hasn’t he been dead for years,” she wondered.

Long live the King!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/09 at 10:57 PM

Thank you, Allen.

It’s going to take a lot more than 75 years (a lot more than pills and isolation and crazy adulation) to kill off Elvis. The more I look, listen and learn, the more I shake rattle and roll.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/10 at 06:15 PM
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