New Year Eve clearly came during an important time of the year for Elvis. Christmas was six days before New Year’s Eve and his birthday fell just eight days afterwards. Of course, his biographers were not able to determine with certainty exactly where he was and what he was doing on each of the 41 December 31st’s of Elvis’ life. However, starting at year’s end in 1955, when he first started receiving national recognition, and ending with his last New Year’s Eve in 1976, we at least know Elvis’ whereabouts on the final day of each year, and more often than not we know what he was doing, at least in general terms.
There are few patterns in how Elvis celebrated the coming of each new year. Only three times did Elvis perform on New Year’s Eve—once at the start of his career and twice at the very end. Usually he spent that evening in Memphis, but occasionally he was elsewhere—in Louisiana, Las Vegas, Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Germany. He spent some New Year’s Eves quietly watching movies and some others hosting parties for over 200 guests. Enough for generalities, though. Let’s start at the beginning of Elvis’ career and see what is known of his activities on the New Year’s Eves of his life.
In 1955, December 31st fell on a Saturday, and so that night Elvis worked his regular gig on the Louisiana Hayride, broadcast out of Shreveport, Louisiana. A lot happened in Elvis’ life over the following 12 months. By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around again in 1956, he was the most famous entertainer in the country. All we know of that December 31st is that Elvis was scheduled to appear between 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Phillips’ Pop Shop, DJ Dewey Phillips’ new TV show in Memphis. Elvis spent the final day of 1957 at Graceland, but his enthusiasm that night must have been dampened by the issuance of his draft notice just 11 days earlier.
• Elvis celebrated two New Years in Germany
Elvis spent the next two New Year’s Eves at his army posting in Germany. December 31, 1958, found Elvis living at the Hotel Grunewald in Bad Nauheim. We don’t know exactly what Elvis did on that night, but he may have gone to the post theater to see a movie. Soldier friend Rex Mansfield recalls that Elvis did that three or four times a week during that period. On the other hand, there may have been quite a party on Presley’s hotel floor that evening. Early in 1959, the hotel management asked Elvis to move out because of all the wild parties Elvis hosted there. Elvis probably spent New Year’s Eve 1959 with Priscilla, whom he had first met the previous September.
As year’s end approached in 1960, Elvis was in Hollywood shooting Wild in the Country. Production halted a week before Christmas, and Elvis flew home to Memphis for the holidays. He flew back to Los Angeles on January 2nd to resume filming. In 1961 Elvis finished his work on Kid Galahad December 20th, but instead of heading home, he decided to spend the holidays in Las Vegas. His biographers provide no details on his activities that New Year’s Eve, but you know what they say, “What happens in Vegas … ”
• Elvis’ Memphis New Year’s Eve parties began in 1962
In 1962 Elvis started a New Year’s Eve tradition that would continue through the end of the decade. After a fireworks display at Graceland, Elvis hosted a party at Memphis’s Manhattan Club for over 200 family, friends, and fans. (The party may have been for Priscilla’s benefit. She had arrived from Germany two weeks earlier to spend the holidays with Elvis.)
By year’s end in 1963, Priscilla was living permanently at Graceland. The following New Year’s Eve was spent quietly watching movies at the Memphian theater, which Elvis rented out for the evening.
Two years after his first big year end party, Elvis again held another New Year’s Eve bash in Memphis. He hosted seven of them between 1964-1970. The first three were held at the Manhattan Club, the next two at the Thunderbird Lounge, and the last two at TJ’s, a Memphis club where Elvis’ buddy, Alan Fortas, was working. Guests at these parties enjoyed a catered dinner and entertainment. Among the acts who performed at Elvis’ New Year’s Eve parties were singers B.J. Thomas and Ronnie Milsap.
According to Elvis biographers Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen, Elvis did not attend the 1966 party at the Manhattan Club because he could not find a parking spot out front. (Huh? Couldn’t Elvis have just gotten out at the front door and had one of his boys park the car for him?) At the 1967 party at the Thunderbird Lounge, recently married Elvis and Priscilla danced several times, including once to “Summertime,” a song requested by Elvis.
New Year’s Eve in 1970 was an eventful one for Elvis. He had spent much of December “badge hunting” across the country. The morning of December 31st found Elvis and his entourage in Washington, D.C., where they received a special tour of FBI headquarters. Then in a leased jet the group flew home to Memphis in time for the annual party at TJ’s.
That was the last big New Year’s Eve party hosted by Elvis. On December 31, 1971, a small, private party was held at Graceland. At the end of 1972, Elvis was in no mood to party. He was in the middle of a crash diet that saw him lose 25 pounds in preparation for his satellite TV concert in Hawaii on January 14, 1973. Elvis spent New Year’s time in 1974 at home in Memphis recovering from health problems.
• Elvis shared his final New Year’s Eves with his fans
Elvis was on the road for the last two New Year’s Eves of his life. On December 31, 1975, he appeared at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. An estimated crowd of 60,000 shared the coming of the New Year with Elvis. In the Detroit News the next day, writer Mike Maza reported the following:
“Presley hit the 50-yard-line stage … at 11:10 pm. Women in glittery dresses and billowing pantsuits joined kids in a rush toward the stage. Lots of screaming. Everything flickered as a generation of flashcubes meets oblivion … Almost midnight: A 10-second countdown ends in cheers … spotlights swirl and balloons float down from the empty upper tier as Elvis and his fans sing, ‘Auld Lang Syne.’”
On New Year’s Eve 1976—his last New Year’s Eve—Elvis was again on stage, this time at Civic Center Arena in Pittsburgh. According to Mike Kalina of the Post Gazette, a crowd of 16,049 were there as “Presley bounded on stage 35 minutes before midnight, but you would have thought the clock had struck 12. He received an ear-deafening ovation punctuated by thousands of blasts of flashbulbs and a patchwork of ‘We Love You Elvis’ signs hoisted aloft.”
“At the stroke of midnight,” Kalina reported, “the house lights went up and Elvis led the crowd in singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. There were some brief huzzahs from the crowd but in a few minutes Presley was back singing.”
Elvis wouldn’t live to see another New Year, but his fans can be thankful that he chose to share the last two New Year’s Eves of his life with them. — Alan Hanson | © December 2009)
"Only three times did Elvis perform on New Year’s Eve—once at the start of his career and twice at the very end."