From music to movies, fashion to food, Elvis Presley’s influence on culture has been pored over in exhaustive detail since he emerged as an entertainment titan more than six decades ago. Even his fit-for-a-king exit line, uttered by many a concert promoter, has become absorbed into the popular lexicon: “Elvis has left the building!” Summing up his status as more than a man but a force of nature, the colloquialism has taken on a life of its own in the 40 years since Presley left the building for good. Remarkably, the origin of the popular catchphrase can be traced back to one man at one date—and it’s all on tape.
The story begins on Dec. 15 1956 in the Louisiana city of Shreveport. Presley, not quite 22 years old, was due to make what would be his last appearance on the popular radio program Louisiana Hayride, singing live on-air across 28 states. The regular exposure—not to mention the $18 per week fee—must have seemed ideal when he first signed with the show as an up-and-coming singer in 1954, but with his hits piling up, his movie career on the rise, and television god Ed Sullivan paying him a reported $50,000 for a single appearance, he was ready to part ways with the program. Presley bought out the remainder of his contract with Louisiana Hayride for a rumored $10,000 on the condition that he play one final show.
The 10,000 teenagers packed into a cramped building in the Shreveport Fairgrounds that December night screamed throughout Presley’s entire set. Unfortunately, bizarre scheduling practices made him only the third performer on a packed bill, and the shrieks for an encore drowned out the next unlucky artist. When it became clear that Presley would not return to the stage, many in the crowd made a dash for the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of the King making his exit. That’s when the show’s announcer, Horace “Hoss” Logan, uttered his immortal words.
“All right, all right, Elvis has left the building,” he boomed over the PA. “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 policeman and he is now gone… Please take your seats.”
Though Logan coined the expression, Al Dvorin is the man who made it famous. Hired by Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, to act as an announcer for the King’s performances, Dvorin used the phrase to let expectant crowds know there would be no encore and that they should clear the venue. In time it became the traditional sign-off for Presley’s shows, audible on recordings of his famous 1961 Pearl Harbor benefit concert. It would eventually make its way into the mainstream a decade later, when it was included on the 1972 live album, Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden.
On his final concert tour, wrapped less than two months before he was found dead in his Memphis mansion, Graceland, on Aug. 16 1977, the phrase was still a fixture, shouted over fans whose screams remained just as passionate as they were 20 years earlier at the Shreveport Fairgrounds.