It has been more than 40 years since the death of Elvis Presley was announced shocking fans of the King of Rock. Even after decades, the singer remains a legendary icon. There is constantly new information about him and his death released as reporters are still interested in his life. In a new documentary, reporters from The National Inquirer reveal how they managed to get a photo of Presley in his coffin.
Presley died of a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee in August 1977. The media attention surrounding the death was massive. The singer’s fans were devastated, and tabloids fought over information about his funeral.
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Presley’s family preferred that his funeral and burial be private. The press at the time was banned. Thousands gathered outside beloved Graceland to see his open casket. An estimated 80,000 people followed the processional route to the cemetery where the King of Rock would be buried.
The National Enquirer used decoys to try to get a photo before paying Elvis Presley’s cousin to do the job. The National Enquirer’s reputation for exposing the “worst” of public figures’ private lives has left many celebrities fearful. The newspaper was known for putting together lewd stories, no matter the cost.
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Reporters were determined to get a photo of Presley in his casket and set up a massive operation to do just that. Reporters from The National Enquirer explained their process in the documentary Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Inquirer.
According to one reporter, news of the star’s death arrived at 5:00 pm, and within an hour, six reporters from the paper were on a plane bound for Memphis. The reporters had an extra suitcase with them with $50,000.
Reporters turned a local Holiday Inn into a newsroom, renting out each room to work full-time on stories related to Presley’s death and funeral. The $50,000 cash they had was used as payment for the stories residents leaked to the newspaper.
The first attempt to get a picture of Presley in his casket involved dressing an older man as a priest. The fake priest hired had a camera under his robe, but the photo he took showed only the coffin, leaving reporters at square one.
One of the National Enquirer photographers located Presley’s cousin at a local bar and approached him with the offer to take a picture of Presley in his casket for a fixed price. The cousin tried and failed several times to get a clear photo, usually having to make excuses to go back to the funeral home where Presley was held to view the body. After three shots, he got the photo the reporters needed.
The National Inquirer paid Elvis Presley’s cousin $18,000 for the photo. The photo was used on the newspaper’s front page and sold over 6 million copies – the biggest sale for the newspaper at that time.