Would you rather live a long, reasonably happy normal life or a short spectacular rich and famous one?
I visited Memphis, Tennessee last week. What a city. Birthplace of rock 'n' rol and the home of the blues. Great food. Great bars. Great culture. Plus she's Elvis Presley's hometown.
It's the 40th anniversary of his death this year and he's still going strong. Dead but popular.
Graceland, the mansion he lived in for 20 years, is still a major tourist attraction — 650,000 people wander through every year. While admiring the 24-carat gold-plated bathroom fixtures on his private jet, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the man. Elvis was only 42 when he died. He's buried by the pool. I shed a tear at his grave.
Elvis loved his parents Vernon and Gladys very much. You can perv into their Graceland bedroom. It's right by the lounge. Have a geez at their en suite. There's no doubt they were immensely proud of their superstar son. But surely they'd have preferred a simple long happy life for their boy. One that didn't involve dying in the upstairs bathroom from drug and deep fried sandwich-related issues.
Last week I stood in Sun Studios on the exact spot, holding the very mic that Elvis recorded his first single. The record was cut straight to vinyl and producer Sam Phillips took it immediately to a local radio station. That's Alright was an instant hit, the phones went crazy and DJ Dewey Phillips was forced to play it 14 times.
A 19-year-old Elvis was so excited, so happy. He had pestered around the studio for a whole year being told he was crap and now it was all happening, his dreams were coming true.
But what if someone had said to him at that point: "Son you are about to become the biggest star in the world, fame and wealth beyond your wildest imagination.
"You'll sell hundreds of millions of records. Girls will scream at you wherever you go. You'll be a massive movie star and one day you'll have so much cash you'll gold-plate your flying bathroom.
"However there is a downside. You'll be dead in 23 years. You'll spend your last few a big sweaty mess, completely wasted on drugs, falling over and hitting your head so many times you'll give yourself brain damage. You'll fly super high but rapidly sink so low, you'll die alone on a toilet floor. Basically you'll get about 15 good years."
Given that info I wonder if Elvis would have been as excited about things. Would he still want it?
Most of the space in Graceland is taken up with recreational areas; there are bars in half the rooms. Elvis dated extremely lovely ladies and smashed quality prescription drugs. He was stupidly good looking and the world's snappiest dresser. He was a crack-up and an ideas man. At one point he had four snowmobiles converted into grassmobiles just so he could race them around Graceland with his buddies.
But he was dangerously depressed and frustrated in his later years. He died with chronic constipation so bad his colon was twice as long and wide as a normal one. He peaked at 150kg and when he wasn't performing, he was virtually non-functional and mostly bed-ridden.
Elvis was generally a loving Dad. He named his huge private plane after his daughter Lisa Marie. One hot summer afternoon, when he found out she hadn't seen snow, they jumped on the jet and he took her to the mountains. They spent half an hour building a snowman and got back for dinner.
Elvis was a great provider. He was born dirt poor. Lisa Marie is worth half a billion. But his excesses meant he never saw her grow up or met his grandchildren.
It's such a classic tragedy. You can imagine the story being told 1000 years from now. A cautionary fairy tale about a fallen king.
Go to Memphis if you ever get the chance. The Civil Rights Museum will move you deeply. Sun Studios and the Stax Museum of American Soul will inspire you. Then visit Graceland. Have a sniff around. Ask yourself whether you would want all that Elvis had, if it meant ending the way he did.
The answer is, of course, hell yeah! Absolutely.
I for one would happily go down in a toilet clutcher for just two years of what that dude had.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.