Reporter Carl Arrington won’t soon forget the first Elvis Presley story he covered and wrote. It was 1976 and, as rock critic for the Detroit Free Press, his byline appeared on a bluntly worded review of Elvis’ concert at the Silverdome. “I talked about his weight, how he came onstage and split his pants, and his waning voice,” Arrington says. His assessment promptly garnered him “a ton of hate mail and some death threats,” he recalls. “That was the first time I felt the overwhelming fan loyalty, the blind devotion that is given to stars of his caliber.”
Since joining PEOPLE’s staff in 1980, Carl has reported on Elvis at least four times, most recently for this issue’s anniversary tribute (page 48). He finds that the fans’ fidelity to the singer is strong even now. “It shows the continuing power of his personality,” Arrington says.
To prepare for this assignment, he listened to Elvis’ recordings, watched his old videotapes and was “mesmerized again by his magic.” He tracked down four former members of Elvis’ inner circle, the so-called Memphis Mafia. Even his tough bodyguard Red West became tearful when reminiscing about Presley. “I found myself comforting him,” says Carl.
The son of a historian of the American West, Leonard James Arrington (whose biography of Brigham Young is due out this spring), Carl, 33, got into journalism in the ninth grade when he published an underground newspaper. After he listed the middle names of all the faculty members, his Logan, Utah school suspended him. He went on to edit his high school newspaper and was an editor and columnist for Utah State’s student paper. He served a Mormon mission in Bolivia for two years and married his childhood sweetheart, Christine Rigby, in 1975. They live with their 14-month-old daughter, Alexis Paige, in a toy-cluttered home in the Hollywood Hills.
Five years ago Arrington was reminded that Elvis mania is global. While traveling in Peru, mechanical trouble forced his airplane to land on a jungle airstrip at 3 a.m. As he passed time listening to music on his Walkman, he recollects, “Some street urchins came up and excitedly asked, ‘You know Elvy Prey? Elvy Prey?’ Then it dawned on me—Elvis Presley! We celebrated the moment by singing a rousing chorus of Hound Dog,” an experience that leads Carl to add, “Long live Elvis. Everywhere you go, he is still a presence.”