Elvis pays tribute to Elvis

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the Daily Mountain Eagle on Aug. 26, 2012, and is being reprinted now in memory of Gary Elvis Cupps.

EMPIRE – Gary Cupps can pinpoint the exact moment that he became an Elvis Presley fan. 

It was a Sunday night in 1956 when Presley made his first infamous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Cupps was not yet 5 years old.

Presley was filmed only from the waist up because his trademark gyrations were considered too vulgar by network censors. However, his performance left enough to the imagination to excite Cupps’ sisters and millions of other young girls around the nation.

“When he came out there and started moving and singing, they began screaming so much that Mother got up and turned it off,” Cupps said. “She said, ‘When you get quiet, I’ll turn it back on.’ They quieted down, but as soon as she turned it back on, they started screaming again. Daddy said, ‘Leave them alone. Let ‘em holler,’” Cupps recalled.

Cupps’ parents never suspected that he would turn out to be the biggest Elvis fan in the family. 

Over the years, he has steadily built a large collection of memorabilia that ranges from photos, records, books and movies to belts made by Mike McGregor – the man who furnished Presley with numerous flashy concert belts and leather suits during the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Many of the pieces were gifts from well-wishers during his 10-month hospital stay following a strip mining accident in 1996.

Cupps has been through Graceland 20 times since Presley’s mansion was opened to the public in June 1982. 

Then, in 1985, Cupps paid the ultimate tribute to the King of Rock and Roll by having his name legally changed to Gary Elvis Cupps. The attorney who filed the paperwork, also an Elvis fan, was excited to be part of the process. 

Cupps’ mother, however, was displeased with his decision to formally adopt the nickname that had been given to him by his fellow strip miners. 

“I said, ‘I’m sorry if I upset you, but I did this just for me.’ Finally, she said, ‘Well, alright, but you’ll always be Gary Wayne Cupps to me,’ and I said, ‘That’s fine,’” Cupps said.

In spite of her protest, Cupps’ mother was not anti-Elvis. 

Cupps said she preferred the mature artist that Elvis became late in his life to the controversial entertainer who burst onto the music scene in the mid-1950s.

Her favorite Elvis recordings were gospel tunes. Presley’s versions of “How Great Thou Art” and “In The Garden” were played at her funeral.

Cupps didn’t want to believe his mother in August 1976 when she told him that Presley was dead. 

Cupps was in the basement painting shelves for her summer canned goods and his mother was upstairs watching her favorite soap opera, “General Hospital,” when a newscaster broke in with the announcement that Presley had been found unconscious at Graceland.

Cupps, who had heard that Presley had been in the hospital the week before, told his mother that Presley must have been admitted for more tests. Ten minutes later, his death was confirmed.

Cupps sat in front of the television for hours and watched the initial footage of mourners laying flowers at the gates of Graceland.

That night, he had trouble sleeping. Cupps said he felt as if he had lost one of his brothers.

In fact, Cupps only saw Elvis in person once – in Birmingham in December 1976, less than a year before his death. 

Cupps said what he appreciates most is how much Presley cared about people, particularly his parents.

“He used his wealth and everything else that was given to him to help other people,” Cupps said.