Eye On KELOLAND: Remembering The King

Just over a year ago, the drug-related death of Minnesota music icon Prince shook the world.  A generation earlier, another musical legend died much too soon, and fans around the globe still mourn his passing.

40 years ago Wednesday, Elvis Presley died of a heart attack at the age of 42 at his Graceland estate, following years of prescription drug abuse.  Two Sioux Falls men were temporarily part of Presley’s entourage when he performed two concerts at the arena, just months before his death.  Eye On KELOLAND gives you a first-ever look at some Sioux Falls souvenirs left behind by the King of Rock and Roll.

Decades before Garth Brooks became the hottest ticket in town, the King of Rock and Roll held court in Sioux Falls.

“It was huge, it was a great event for Sioux Falls.  Unfortunately, he didn’t do nine-concerts that would all sell out in a matter of minutes, but yeah, it was great,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.

Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead and retired Sioux Falls police officer Dave Rowe were part of Elvis Presley’s security detail when he performed at the arena in October of 1976 and June of ’77.  Milstead was stationed outside of Presley’s sixth-floor suite at the downtown Holiday Inn City Centre.

“My business was to make sure Mr. Presley was secure and he was.  He was very cordial, he thanked us for being there,” Milstead said.

Only members of Presley’s inner-circle, shown in this actual staff list, were allowed onto the sixth floor.

“I remember when they came off the elevator with the meal they were bringing to him, the personal attendant stirring the pudding to make sure it wasn’t too lumpy, or it wasn’t lumpy because Elvis didn’t like lumpy pudding,” Milstead said.

In 1976, Rowe drove Presley from the hotel to the arena, in his parents’ 1975 Buick LeSabre.

“As I’m driving down the street, I’m looking in the rear-view mirror and I’m looking straight into Elvis’s eyes because he was sitting in the middle because he had two security guys on both sides of him,” Rowe said.

Rowe even struck up a conversation with his famous backseat passenger.

“He asked does it always snow this time in Sioux Falls?  How big is Sioux Falls?  Just small talk, but he’s the one who started the conversation just like we’re buddies driving down the street, what are we going to talk about, very easy to talk with, very easy,” Rowe said.

Rowe’s security assignment also included a spot on-stage as Presley performed.

“And he was a music idol of mine, thinking this guy’s standing 20 feet away from me and I’m listening to this guy sing and I’m on the same stage, so it was an awesome experience,” Rowe said.

The moment the concert ended, Elvis left the building in the company of Rowe, who drove him to the airport.

“One of the remarks he made, he says that was really great, I’m coming back!  And I thought, that’s really awesome.  And six months, seven months later, he came back for a second concert,” Rowe said.

But during that second Sioux Falls appearance in June of 1977, it was clear to both Rowe and Milstead that this was not the same Elvis they saw that previous fall.

“He was puffy, putting on some weight, you could tell they had to refit his outfits for him a little bit.  Still he had the voice, but you could tell he wasn’t doing well,” Rowe said.

Following Presley’s second stay at the Holiday Inn, Milstead, with the permission of the hotel, helped himself to the dish set that was part of Elvis’s final meal in Sioux Falls.

“I always thought that if I get hit by a freight train, my wife will see these dirty dishes and throw them away, why does he have a sack with dirty dishes in it,” Milstead said.

Milstead also retrieved some hand-written torn scraps of paper, tossed into the wastebasket next to Presley’s bed.   Milstead later assembled the jottings, like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing a cryptic, yet prophetic message.

“Why am I dying to live if I’m just living to die?  And it just caught me.  It’s not like a really happy note,” Milstead said.

Less than two months later, Elvis Presley was dead.

“If it was him writing that, that would tell me that it was a tough time in his life,” Milstead said.

Presley’s charisma and talent have immortalized him to generations of fans.  Yet 40 years ago, during that “tough time” Presley’s security detail was able to protect him, but ultimately, Presley couldn’t protect himself.

“There’s a payment to getting at the top eventually, and unfortunately, Elvis paid that price,” Rowe said.

Pressley’s 1977 music tour also included a stop in Rapid City where he held the very first concert at the new Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.



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