More than 40 of Elvis Presley’s trademark jumpsuits are to go on display for the first time in the UK for an exhibition focusing on his later, touring years.
The three-month show at London’s O2 will tell the story of Elvis between 1969 and 1977 – his comeback years when he toured the US almost non-stop. They were also years in which he struggled with depression, obesity and an addiction to prescription drugs.
His ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, acknowledged they were, at times, difficult years, but told the Guardian: “We all have demons. The press likes to just focus on things like that but we all have our demons, we all have our ups and downs and unfortunately for the people who are in the limelight, it is magnified so many times more.”
The Presleys separated in 1972 and divorced the following year. They remained close and were photographed leaving the Los Angeles courthouse where their divorce was finalised, smiling and arm in arm.
Presley said that image was significant. “I wish people could work it out more,” she said. “Just because you separate or divorce doesn’t mean you’re not still in love: it’s just people move on, life changes, people grow up.”
Elvis performed more than 1,100 concerts in his later years, which would put a strain on any relationship. “Touring is not easy for any couple,” Presley said. After the separation they became even closer than before, she said. “We were there for each other, we cared for each other, we remained close, close friends. Elvis would talk to me about things which were going on his life.”
The O2 show will include more than 40 of the jumpsuits Elvis wore on stage, most of which have never been on display at Graceland, let alone the UK.
It will include three phoenix jumpsuits he wore on tours in 1974-75, which the designer had originally intended as zebras. “Elvis looked at the design upside-down and thought it was a bird,” said Graceland’s director of archives, Angie Marchese. So a stripy bird it became.
Given Elvis wore the jumpsuits for about six months at a time, the show will also feature some of the many dry cleaning and repair bills. There will be guitars, microphones, posters and tour trunks including one still filled with the silk scarves that he used to throw out to audiences.
Marchese said the aim of the show was for visitors to feel as if they were on tour with Elvis. One exhibit will be a recreation of the inside of the plane he used to fly from city to city.
Priscilla Presley said she was surprised by how popular the first exhibition had been. “We were all absolutely taken aback by the success of it, which is why we are doing it again … it’s by popular demand. People came back not just once or twice but sometimes three, four times.”
Marchese said the first show had exceeded expectations. “The UK loves Elvis and we know it. Elvis was never able to tour the UK so to bring this story to the UK and make it feel like Elvis is there, performing … that’s the excitement of it all.”
• Elvis on Tour opens at the O2 in London on 3 November
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