August 16, 1977…

Today at Graceland:

’68 Special 50th Anniversary Celebration

7:00 PM. Graceland Soundstage, Elvis Presley’s Memphis. $55
Join us as we celebrate Elvis Presley’s groundbreaking NBC television special that aired in December 1968, “Elvis.” The show will feature an enhanced screening of what has become known as Elvis’ “’68 Comeback Special” with live music, special guest appearances and performers, and much more. 4, 1968. Civil rights leader Andrew Young (L) and others standing on balcony of Lorraine motel pointing in direction of assailant after assassination of civil rights ldr. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is lying at their feet. Photo: Joseph Louw—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images


King was not a great admirer of rock ‘n’ roll, but Presley greatly admired King, who was killed less than nine miles from Presley’s home at Graceland.

Presley was unable to attend the funeral in person as he was filming Live a Little, Love a Little, one of his many movies. But according to his co-star Celeste Yarnall, she and Elvis “watched the funeral together over lunch in his trailer. He cried. He really cared deeply.”

A few weeks later, Elvis began to work on the one-hour TV show now widely known as his ’68 Comeback Special. Filmed in June and airing in December, the show was originally scheduled to close with Elvis singing “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” a plan enthusiastically endorsed by his Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

But in light of King’s assassination (and, as production of the show got under way, the murder of Sen. Robert Kennedy on June 6, 1968), Elvis balked. He wanted to conclude with a song that reflected his deep sadness at the racial and political strife dividing the country.

Steve Binder, the director of the Comeback Special, agreed. “I wanted to let the world know that here was a guy who was not prejudiced,” Binder declared, “who was raised in the heart of prejudice, but was really above all that.”

Binder and Elvis were able to outmaneuver Parker, and for once Elvis got to sing what he wanted to sing. The Comeback Special closes — unforgettably — with “If I Can Dream.”

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