Elvis Presley 1977 Refund Letters
In the mid-summer of 1977, Elvis Presley announced a 10-day tour that would begin August 18th in Portland, Maine and wrap up at the Mid-South Coliseum on August 27, 1977. This would be Elvis’ eighth appearance at the Coliseum. In 1974, he did a series of five shows at the arena, one of which was recorded and released as an album entitled, Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis. He subsequently returned once in 1975 and again on July 5, 1976. Each appearance at the Mid-South Coliseum sold out at 12,000 tickets, sometimes in less than a day.
For the scheduled August 27th show, tickets were only available via mail order, and fans were limited to 10 tickets priced at $15, $12.50, or $10. As expected, the show sold out by mail, and on August 2, the Commercial Appeal alerted fans to the addition of a second show, now scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on August 28th. In addition to the extra Memphis show, Elvis was now set to begin the tour a day earlier in Portland with a performance scheduled for August 17th, 1977. That show, and the August tour in general, never came to pass.
When Elvis passed away suddenly only August 16, 1977, fans, including Mid-South Coliseum manager Bubba Bland, were left in a state of shock. The Coliseum had sold 22,000 tickets, and by August 24th, only about 2,000 fans had written to the arena requesting a refund. More notes came in over time, with some fans taking days to process their grief and compose thoughtful letters expressing how much Elvis had meant to them. These letters and refund requests, stowed in a box labeled, “Elvis Refund Slips – Do Not Destroy”, remained tucked away in a storage closet in the Mid-South Coliseum for over 40 years.
We discovered the box during our second visit to the Coliseum, and after reviewing the contents, we learned that not only were fans upset over the death of The King, they were also unsure about the process to obtain refunds. The Coliseum’s policy required the ticket to be returned in order to receive a refund; however, many fans did not want to part with their tickets and decided instead to keep them as mementos. Others wished to donate the amount of their refund to St. Jude or a memorial heart fund in Presley’s name. These were both potential plans that had been discussed in the newspaper, although it is unclear if either ever became official policy. You can read a sampling of these letters here, with additional images to be found on DIG Memphis as part of the mini-collection, Elvis Presley 1977 Concert.
There was some controversy over what to do with the remaining money that was not claimed for refunds. Five years after Elvis’ death, more than $150,000 of the original $325,000 worth of proceeds remained unclaimed. In August of 1982, Priscilla Presley and co-executors of the Elvis Presley Estate filed suit in Shelby County attempting to claim the remaining proceeds, which at that time were in the possession of the Coliseum. The resulting suit worked its way through the courts until a final decision was made in 1989. At that time the court ruled that the money could only be claimed by the rightful owners, the ticketholders. You can read the details of the case HERE.