Elvis Presley left this world too soon at the age of 42 in 1977. He died in his Graceland mansion bathroom, but the exact circumstances remain unclear. One undisputed fact is the book he was reading at the time of his death: “The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus” by Frank O. Adams.
What exactly is this book about and why was Presley interested in it?
The Shroud of Turin
Adams’ book is about the famous Shroud of Turin, long reputed to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. First reported in 1354, faded bloodstains on the shroud display the image of a man with wounds corresponding to those of Christ following his crucifixion. The cloth has long been a source of controversy with competing claims about its age and authenticity.
In an odd coincidence, Presley’s death on August 17 is the same date as the Feast Day the Eastern Orthodox Church designated for the Image of Edessa, another religious relic thought to display Christ’s face.
The Contradiction of Elvis Presley
Presley had a deep and abiding Christian faith throughout his life. A Pentecostal preacher originally baptized him as a child in Tupelo, Miss. As a teenager, he reportedly underwent a second baptism in Memphis, Tenn. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptized him a third time posthumously.
Much of Presley’s career, however, was seemingly at odds with Christianity. During his first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” for example, he was shown only from the waist up for the sake of decency.
As Molly Ivins wrote in his New York Times obituary, his “throaty baritone and blatant sexuality redefined popular music” and he “was once the object of such adulation that teen-age girls screamed and fainted at the sight of him. He was also denounced for what was considered sexually suggestive conduct on stage. Preachers inveighed against him in sermons and parents forbade their children to watch him on television.”
For those who denounced Presley for performing the Devil’s music, his faith might come as a surprise. But according to USA Today, Presley told a friend late in life, “All I want is to know the truth, to know and experience God. I’m a searcher, that’s what I’m all about.”
Presley was always looking for a higher truth. Cheryl Thurber wrote in Gospel Music Magazine that while he brought the Bible with him everywhere, he also read books such as “The Autobiography of a Yogi” and “The Prophet.” And his most frequent companions during his final months in seclusion were books on spiritualism from his library.
Presley fans everywhere pray he found what he was looking for.