The world lost the King of Rock 40 years ago last August, and now his longtime queen is opening up about the day she said goodbye. During an appearance on Today Wednesday morning, Priscilla Presley reflected on the day of Elvis‘ funeral — an event that sent Memphis into mourning.
“I was still shocked. It was just too hard to believe,” she said of that difficult moment in 1977 when the procession left Graceland, the rambling estate they had called home prior to their divorce several years earlier. “And going out the gates in the limo and seeing the streets lined up on both sides all the way to the cemetery. You’d see glimpses, you’d see people crying, hysterical, fainting, and that’s how impactful it was and still to this day. People come around the same time and they’re all there.”
Among those paying their respects was Bill Murray, then an up and coming comedian on Saturday Night Live. He also happened to be on Today Wednesday morning and shared his memories of the day the music died. Though he wasn’t technically invited to Elvis’ services, Murray didn’t let that stop him.
“Something made me want to go,” he revealed. So he hopped on a flight to Memphis and made it to Graceland just as the public visitation hours were ending. It started to look like his trip had been for naught until he bumped into a photographer friend covering the spectacle. The cameraman gave him an insider’s hookup.
“The next day I ended up in the bus in front of to the cortège,” Murray, 67, continued, “It was an extraordinary thing to see—hundreds of thousands of people standing in a really hot day waiting.”
The procession headed to Forest Hill Cemetery, where Elvis’ beloved mother Gladys — who died a premature death when the singer was a young man — was interred. The burial ground had initially been chosen as Elvis’ final resting place (He was ultimately moved to the Graceland grounds several months later following a plot to steal his body), and Murray positioned himself to take in the proceedings.
“As I ran across the cemetery, all of a sudden the motorcycles came in the motorcycles cops looked at me like, ‘If you move we will kill ya,'” he recounted. “I just froze. They were all staring at me and pointing. I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m busted.’ And I realized they were pointing at Elvis’ mother’s grave, I was standing right at her gravesite. It was a very interesting moment.”
Priscilla is in the midst of promoting Elvis Presley: The Searcher, a probing three-hour documentary on the rock icon to be broadcast April 14 on HBO. During a recent panel at SXSW, the 72-year-old admitted it was hard to revisit her former husband’s “final chapter” and relive the painful memories through the film: “It was difficult for all of us, we certainly didn’t see it coming. But we certainly saw the journey he was taking.”