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The Religious Affiliation of Rock and Roll Pioneer
Before her marriage to Roger Smith, Ann-Margret had a close romantic relationship with Elvis Presley. From: Ann-Margret (with Todd Gold), Ann-Margret: My Story, G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York, NY (1994), pages 111-112:
The more time Elvis and I spent together, the more we learned how eerily similar we were. Some things were obvious, such as a love of motorcycles, music, and performing. We'd both also experienced meteoric rises in show business; we liked our privacy; we loved our families; we had a strong belief in God.
From: David W. Cloud, "1950s Rock -- Creating a Revolution", distributed by Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service, copyright 2001 (http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/1950srock.htm; viewed 19 July 2005):
Elvis grew up in a superficially religious family, sporadically attending First Assembly of God Church in East Tupelo, Mississippi, then First Assembly of God in Memphis. His father and mother were not committed church members, though, and though Elvis attended church frequently with his mother during his childhood, he never made a profession of faith or joined the church. The pastor in Memphis, James E. Haffmill, says Elvis did not sing in church or participate in a church group (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 20). By his high school years, Elvis largely stopped attending church. Elvis's father, Vernon, and mother, Gladys, met at the First Assembly of God in Tupelo, but they eloped a few months later.
...Elvis's mother... was "a woman susceptible to the full spectrum of backwoods superstitions, prone to prophetic dreams and mystical intuitions" (Stairway to Heaven, p. 46).
...By 1956, Presley was a national rock star and teenage idol, and his music and image had a tremendously unwholesome effect upon young people. Parents, pastors, and teachers condemned Elvis's sensual music and suggestive dancing and warned of the evil influence he was exercising among young people.
...Elvis performed and recorded many gospel songs. In the early 1950s he attended all-night gospel quartet concerts at the First Assembly of God and Ellis Auditorium in Memphis and befriended such famous groups as the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen. When he was 18, Elvis auditioned for a place in the Songfellows Quartet, but the position was given to James Blackwood's nephew Cecil. Later, as his rock & roll career was prospering, Elvis was offered a place with the Blackwood Brothers, but he turned it down. Even after he became famous, Elvis continued attending Southern gospel sings and the National Quartet Convention. In the early years of his rock & roll career, he sang some with the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen at all-night sings at Ellis Auditorium in Memphis (Taylor, Happy Rhythms, p. 117)...
Elvis's love for gospel music is not evidence that he was born again. His on-again, off-again profession of faith in Christ also was not evidence that he was saved. Three independent Baptist preachers have testified that Elvis told them that he had trusted Jesus as his Savior in his younger years but was backslidden. There was no biblical evidence for that, though. We must remember that Elvis grew up around churches and understood all of the terminology. There was never a time, though, when Elvis's life changed. Empty professions of faith do not constitute biblical salvation... Elvis liked some gospel music but he did not like Bible preaching. He refused to allow anyone, including God, tell him how to live his life...
"Elvis Presley never stood for anything. He made no sacrifices, fought no battles, suffered no martyrdom, never raised a finger to struggle on behalf of what he believed or claimed to believe. Even gospel, the music he cherished above all, he travestied and commercialized and soft-soaped to the point where it became nauseating. ... Essentially, Elvis was a phony. ... He feigned piety, but his spirituals sound insincere or histrionic" (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, pp. 187, 188).
...The book he took to the bathroom just before he died was either The Force of Jesus by Frank Adams or The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, depending on various accounts... Elvis never made a public profession of faith in Christ, was never baptized, and never joined a church. Pastor Hamill, former pastor of First Assembly of God in Memphis, says that Presley visited him in the late 1950s, when he was at the height of his rock & roll powers, and testified: "Pastor, I'm the most miserable young man you've ever seen. I've got all the money I'll ever need to spend. I've got millions of fans. I've got friends. But I'm doing what you taught me not to do, and I'm not doing the things you taught me to do" (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 20).
Elvis did not drink, but he abused drugs most of his life...
Elvis did not believe the Bible in any traditional sense... Elvis constructed "a personalised religion out of what he'd read of Hinduism, Judaism, numerology, theosophy, mind control, positive thinking and Christianity" (Hungry for Heaven, p. 143). The night he died, he was reading the book Sex and Psychic Energy (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, p. 140). Elvis loved material by guru Paramahansa Yogananda, the Hindu founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship... In considering a marriage to Ginger Alden (which never came to pass) prior to his death, Elvis wanted the ceremony to be held in a pyramid-shaped arena "in order to focus the spiritual energies upon him and Ginger" (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, p. 125). Elvis traveled with a portable bookcase containing over 200 volumes of his favorite books. The books most commonly associated with him were books promoting pagan religion, such as The Prophet by Kahilil Gibran; Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda; The Mystical Christ by Manley Palmer; The Life and Teachings of the Master of the Far East by Baird Spalding; The Inner Life by Leadbetter; The First and Last Freedom by Krishnamurti; The Urantia Book; The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception; the Book of Numbers by Cheiro; and Esoteric Healing by Alice Bailey. Elvis was a great fan of occultist Madame Blavatsky. He was so taken with Blavatsky's book The Voice of Silence, which contains the supposed translation of ancient occultic Tibetan incantations, that he "sometimes read from it onstage and was inspired by it to name his own gospel group, Voice" (Goldman, Elvis, p. 436). Another of Elvis's favorite books was The Impersonal Life, which supposedly contains words recorded directly from God by Joseph Benner. Biographer Albert Goldman says Elvis gave away hundreds of copies of this book over the last 13 years of his life.
Elvis was sometimes called the evangelist by those who hung around him, and he called them his disciples; but the message he preached contained "strange permutations of Christian dogma" (Stairway to Heaven, p. 56). Elvis believed, for example, that Jesus slept with his female followers. Elvis even had messianic concepts of himself as the savior of mankind in the early 1970s. He read the Bible aloud at times and even conducted some strange "Bible studies," but he had no spiritual discernment and made up his own wild-eyed interpretations of biblical passages. His ex-wife, Priscilla, eventually joined the Church of Scientology, as did his daughter, Lisa Marie, and her two children.
After Ann-Margret was severely injured in an automobile accident, her old boyfriend Elvis Presley visited her when there was a large crowd around, and later called her at home. From: Ann-Margret: My Story, pages 256-257:
Late that night the phone rang in our bedroom [Ann-Margret's bedroom with her husband Roger Smith]. I knew who was on the other end, and I was pleased that Roger was in the living room next door. If he had answered the telephone, I suppose Elvis would have hung up, just like in the movies.
Elvis told me how great it had been seeing me earlier. I looked wonderful. His prayers for my recovery had been answered. But then his tone changed. Saying he was lonely, he asked if he could see me. It was a question I'd anticipated since afternoon but hoped that he wouldn't really ask.
"You know I can't."
"I know," he said. "But I just want you to know that I still feel the same."
Webpage created 19 July 2005. Last modified 2 August 2005.
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