The phrase "Elvis has left the building" was first used to describe the moment when the King had, literally, exited a venue. This makes sense considering Elvis Presley's crazed fan base. Emcees needed to calm down the crowds hanging out in hope of an encore! But the expression took on a life of its own in popular culture and has come to represent finality in the broadest of terms... from home runs to final farewells, to more bluntly, death. So what's the history behind this shape-shifting quotation?
"All right, all right, Elvis has left the building. I've told you absolutely straight up to this point. You know that. He has left the building. He left the stage and went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building."
-- Horace Logan
The 'Louisiana Hayride' Show
Before Elvis Presley achieved international fame, he was a local wonder with one big hit: "Heartbreak Hotel." The year was 1956. Before that, Presley performed regularly in Shreveport's beloved Louisiana Hayride show. Recorded at the Municipal Auditorium, the various production featured country music acts broadcast a national audience. Appearances on Louisiana Hayride marked Presley's first national debuts: on radio in 1954, then on television in 1955.
But as Presley's sound evolved, and more young people became excited by the new rock 'n' roll twang, his participation in Louisiana Hayride overshadowed his fellow acts. Legend has it that "Elvis has left the building" was first formally uttered by the Hayride promoter and host Horace Lee Logan in December of 1956. Unlucky for the rest of the lineup, Presley had been scheduled in the middle of the show. As Logan tried to calm the riled-up fans, he explained that the Presley had left and "went out the back with the policemen and he is now gone from the building."
It's worth noting, however, that a bulletin in the Detroit Times from one month prior quoted Presley's press agent Oscar Davis as having told a fanatic mob: "Elvis has left the building. Hold it. Hold it. Elvis is gone."
The Evolution of a Phrase
The turn of phrase was used again, in 1961, at the end of Elvis' Pearl Harbor Memorial benefit concert; Presley escaped the venue following his performance of "Hound Dog." Then, throughout the 1970s, it became something of a catchphrase for Presley's bandleader Al Dvorin. At Colonel Tom Parker's request, Dvorin began signing off many Elvis Presley concerts in Las Vegas by announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building."
The Death of Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley left the building for good on August 16, 1977, at the age of 43. In the decades since his work on Louisiana Hayride, Presley cranked out hit after hit. He starred in 33 Hollywood films! He married his wife Priscilla, had daughter Lisa Marie Presley, and divorced Priscilla. But by the late '70s, Presley was unhealthy: overweight and addicted to prescription drugs. The King of Rock passed, from heart failure, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate.
Less than two weeks later, the first figurative use of "Elvis has left the building" was recorded. In a memorial to the late musician at the Asheville Civic Center in North Carolina, singer-songwriter J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet performed an original tribute song: "Elvis Has Left the Building." They'd collaborated with Presley in the past, and their song imbues a personal touch to the history embedded in the lyrics. It functions as a musical obituary of sorts, tracing the legend's uniquely sad journey.
Since then, the line has been further invoked -- almost as a pun -- in a cheeky reference to the countless conspiracies surrounding Presley's death.
"Now the show is over /
And the curtain has come down /
Elvis has left the building /
But will always be around"
-- J.D. Sumner
A few years after Presley's death, other, modified uses of the phrase began popping up in popular culture. In 1983, the sportswriter George Vecsey used "Elvis has left the building" to refer to the defeat of the St. Johns University basketball team. This is also, notably, the first instance of the words being utilized in the athletic field.
Since then, various baseball announcers have used the words to indicate a home run where the ball has landed over the outfield fence. The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey announcer Mike Lange uses the line to celebrate a Penguins win. A variation is also used to denote the exit of WWE wrestler Shawn Michaels a.k.a. The Heartbreak Kid.
Artistically, the words also serve as an inspiration. Frank Zappa's song "Elvis Has Just Left the Building" appeared on his 1988 album Broadway the Hard Way. It reckons directly with the King's messy legacy. Listen above.
This off-beat rom-com from 2004, Elvis Has Left the Building, stars Kim Basinger and John Corbett and, inexplicably, many Elvis impersonators.
In the sitcom Frasier, the line "Frasier has left the building" concludes most episodes. Having almost nothing to do with Elvis, this is a solid example of just how far and transferred the words -- once spoken to quell Louisiana Hayride enthusiasts -- have come.