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The last days of the King of Rock 'n' Roll

August 16 will mark 30 years since the iconic American singer and actor Elvis Aaron Presley was found dead, at 42, from drug abuse and an enlarged heart, in Graceland, his home in Memphis in the southern American state of Tennessee.

Had he lived he would be 72 today.

In death the King is larger than in life. His legion of of fans -- some 50,000 -- are expected to gather for an all-night candlelight vigil at Graceland to remember him during this Summer of Elvis as Elvis Presley Enterprises, which runs his wealthy estate, has dubbed it.

There will be day-long airing of his songs on Memphis radio stations. And plenty of tours one can take to see the two-room home in Tupelo, Mississippi on Highway 78 where he and his twin (stillborn) came into the world, the school he went to (where he was teased, thrown fruit at for being a quiet student, for stuttering and for being a mamma's boy; he was an only child), the Tupelo hardware store where he got his first guitar at the age 11 for $7.90 instead of the rifle he really wanted and so on.

Sonny West, Elvis's friend and bodyguard of 16 years, on the occasion of his 30th death anniversary will release Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business published by Triumph Books that relates fascinating off-stage and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the life of the King.

We bring you an extract from this absorbing book:

On Friday, September 27, 1974, (Elvis) was in as bad of shape as I'd ever seen him in public when he arrived in College Park (University of Maryland campus near Baltimore) to start a fifteen-city tour. When he exited from the limo at the hotel, he looked as though he'd been on a huge bender. His hair was a mess, and his speech was pretty slurred.

There were policemen standing nearby to help me with the security detail. I tried to cover up Elvis's condition in front of them by saying, "Not awake yet, huh, boss?" and then whisked him up to his suite. After I got him settled in, I gathered Red, Dave, Jerry, and a couple of the other guys and asked what was going on with Elvis. He had never shown up for a tour in this condition. "Sonny, I didn't even know if he was going to make it here," said Red. "It's getting harder and harder to get him up and moving."

I didn't know what else to do but pray. I gathered all of the security detail, and we formed a prayer circle, asking God to please help cure Elvis of his prescription drug habit and whatever else was bothering him.

When we went into Elvis's room, he started handing out checks to everyone. The checks ranged from $10,000 for the "old-school" guys down to $2,500 for the younger and newer ones. I got a check for $5,000, and Elvis told me to forget about paying him back for an $11,000 loan he'd made me a couple of months earlier in July for a down payment on a home that Judy and I bought in Woodland Hills, California.

Tears came to my eyes, and I said, "Elvis, are you sure, man?" "Oh yeah, I'm sure," he said, smiling.

I thanked him, and we hugged. Then I turned to Elvis's dad, Vernon, and thanked him, too. "It was his idea," he said testily, nodding at Elvis. I knew that, of course. I just was trying to be respectful to Vernon.

Elvis could break my heart in so many ways.

After a nap, Elvis was still feeling the effects of whatever drugs he'd been doing. Dressed in a white peacock jumpsuit, he stepped onto the stage and told the crowd of fifteen thousand, "I just woke up."

He just about sleepwalked through the performance, hanging onto the microphone for dear life, mumbling unintelligibly, and screwing up the lyrics of Love Me Tender.

The show was cut twenty minutes short. The next night, Elvis was only slightly better.

But it wasn't the quality, or lack thereof, of the show that caught the attention of the The Washington Post reviewer as much as Elvis's weight gain. In his story in the next day's paper, the reviewer riffed on Elvis's 'paunch', and when Elvis saw the article, he was very upset. When he took the stage for his second show in College Park, he told the crowd, "Those of you who saw the morning paper, er, the evening paper, whatever it was, they gave, they gave me a fantastic write-up. No, they did. Except they said I had a paunch here, and I want to tell you something. I got their damn paunch!

"I wore a bullet-proof vest onstage. True. You know, in case some fool decides to take a .22 and blow my belly button off. That's the truth. I got this paunch, sonofabitch."

This excerpt has been printed with the permission of Triumph Books

Presley was just 10 when he sang for the first time in public at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. He sang Old Shep by Red Foley and won the second prize. Photograph: STF/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier slide show: The King lives on

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