Hoaxes & Rumors

Urban Legend: Is the Elvis Dead Body Photo a Hoax?

Urban Legend: Is the Elvis Dead Body Photo a Hoax?
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When the National Enquirer ran the infamous photo of Elvis Presley in his casket, conspiracy theorists immediately decried the photo as fake.

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Elvis Dead Body Photo

The photo ran on the cover of the National Enquirer on September 6, 1977, just weeks after Elvis passed away. The photographer was the object of speculation for years, but it was later confirmed in a tell-all book by Enquirer editor Iain Calder that Elvis’ cousin Billy Mann was paid $18,000 to sneak a photo of Elvis in his coffin. Elvis’ cousin Billy Smith also corroborated this claim. (Some sources erroneously claim the cousin was “Bobby Mann” which is inaccurate. Some sources also claim it was $10,000, some say $30,000, and others say $75,000.) This cousin should not be confused with Billy Smith, who was a first cousin and close confidant of Elvis.

Questions About the Photo…

  • Body Too Thin? It has been said that Elvis looks too thin in the casket photo, and more like Elvis from 1957 instead of 1977. Some reports claim that those who attended the funeral claim that Elvis did not resemble the photo that was on the cover of the National Enquirer. One defense of the photo states that Enquirer retouch artist Robert Stevens may have been a little too generous in his retouching efforts. Others claim that he merely appears thin because he is laying on his back.
  • Nose Not Right? It has been claimed that the nose seen in the casket photo looked flat and was not the same as the nose of Elvis Presley. This theory bolsters the claim by some that it was a wax dummy in the coffin, and not Elvis. Those who defend the photo have said that the “wrong nose” is again due to over-retouching by Robert Stevens. It has been claimed that Elvis collapsed face-first and broke his nose when he died, which could also explain the “pug nose” in the coffin.
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Other Rumors

There are so many other rumors about the death of Elvis Presley, that volumes of books have already been written on the subject. We, however, are focused purely on the photo that appeared in the National Enquirer.

2015 Satire Report

In January 2015, fake news website Empire News posted a story claiming that an 80-year old homeless man found under and overpass in San Diego was identified as Elvis Presley. Readers looking up the veracity of that fake story have found this article in search results. Empire News publishes fake, outlandish stories which are not real. The story about a homeless Elvis discovered in San Diego is a work of fiction.

Bottom Line

There has been much debate about a photo supposedly showing Elvis in his casket. This has been used in a larger debate regarding Elvis’ death and claims that a wax dummy or a lookalike was in the coffin. As far as the photo representing what was in the casket, it appears to be genuine, although it was retouched by an artist at the National Enquirer. Elvis’ cousin Billy Smith has confirmed that the photo was taken of Elvis, and did not dispute the image’s veracity. Unless the body is exhumed, it’s doubtful that the debate on the contents of the casket and the infamous photo will ever end. For those of us on the sidelines, both sides of the debate are fascinating.

Further Reading

Updated May 22, 2016
Originally published May 2012

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