When I proposed to the Postal Service in 1983 that it issue a stamp commemorating Elvis, I assumed, perhaps naively, that everyone knew Elvis as we in Memphis did and that most would find him a fit subject for any series of stamps honoring American musicians.
I still believe that most Americans share my view, but a persistent and vocal minority continue to try to block the issuance of the Elvis stamp, usually by slandering the man.Let's get something straight. Elvis was not perfect, but neither is he the poster child for drug abuse which opponents have made him out to be. Elvis was no "pothead" or "drug addict," as he has been called by the more shrill voices among the opposition.
That is not to say that his life was a perfect one, or even one which we would wish for ourselves or our children.
Elvis was a troubled man, one who came to rely far too heavily on prescribed medication, but on the whole he lived a better life than a good many people whose likenesses have appeared on stamps - without public protest, I might add.
If personal righteousness is to be the standard for deciding who appears on a postage stamp, the only fit subjects are likely to be birds, bunnies, flowers and flags.
Elvis is being honored for his contribution to American music and popular culture. But since his "character" is so much an issue with critics of the stamp, and since so many mean-spirited and simply wrong allegations have been made about the man, let me tell you something about Elvis as we in Memphis knew him.
A talented and engaging entertainer, Elvis was also a generous man. Mindful of his humble beginnings, he remembered those in need. He gave freely of his time and generously of his money to support literally dozens of charitable organizations and events, not just in our community but nationwide.
A full listing would likely fill half of this newspaper page. A lot of people don't know that. He did not do those things just to get headlines or because a handler told him it would be good for his image. He did it because he genuinely cared.
Those willing to set themselves up to judge the man's life must, in fairness, view the entirety of his contribution, rather than dwell exclusively on an unfortunate and premature end.
Does Elvis belong in any series of stamps honoring contemporary American musicians? Absolutely.
In a career that spanned three decades, Elvis achieved a level of professional success few can match: 149 songs on Billboard's Hot 100, 114 "Top 40 " hits, 40 "Top 10" songs and 18 that made it to the top of the chart. Elvis had nine number one albums, 25 in the Top 10, 48 in the Top 40.
He is among only a handful of artists to simultaneously hold the top spot on the pop, country, and rhythm and blues charts. His records have sold more than 1 billion copies worldwide. He received 14 Grammy Award nominations, winning three.
He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.
That's why Elvis will be on a postage stamp. That's why there is such interest in the contest to pick which likeness will appear on the stamp.
Stamp opponents find fault with this, too, complaining about how much it will cost to produce and promote the Elvis stamp. Again, they have failed to do their homework.
Far from costing the Postal Service money, the Elvis stamp will be a moneymaker. In Memphis and the Mid-South alone, the Postal Service will likely earn more from the Elvis stamp than it will spend to promote the stamp nationally.
Elvis, in his day, was THE KING. For many who enjoyed his music, he still is. The only unsettled question ought to be whether the "young" Elvis or the "old" Elvis appears on the stamp we will unveil at Graceland next month.