Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, would have turned 75 this year. In death he remains more popular than most singers and actors ever manage in life. "Echoes of Elvis," an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington that runs through August, captures Presley's immense cultural staying power.
There are ironic, unironic, and semi-ironic depictions of the King as Julius Caesar, a latter-day Western hero, a rockin' rebel, and more. There are academic studies of Presley's semiotics, cookbooks like Are You Hungry Tonight?, and tell-all confessionals by hangers-on.
But why is "the face of Elvis…one of the most recognizable human images in history," as the exhibition guide notes? It's a handsome face, for sure, adaptable to an infinite number of purposes. So is his large and varied body of work. But his rags-to-riches-to-pantsuits-to-overdose story is the real gold mine, a tragicomic illustration of an American life the whole world can both aspire to and recoil from. —Nick Gillespie