With reference to Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-77), American rock-and-roll and pop singer, the American-English phrase Elvis has left the building is used to indicate that someone has died or has made a notable exit, or that something is definitively concluded. Similarly, the phrase —— has left the building is used to indicate that the specified person or thing has departed, is finished or has ceased to exist.
According to many sources, among which the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition, 2016), the phrase Elvis has left the building was originally used by the radio producer Horace Lee Logan (1916-2002) on Saturday 15th December 1956 during the Louisiana Hayride, a radio country-music show broadcast from the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium in Shreveport, Louisiana.
However, that origin is erroneous; I have discovered in the Detroit Times (Detroit, Michigan) of Friday 23rd November 1956 that the country-music promoter Oscar Davis (1902-75) had used the phrase in order to stop hysterical fans from pursuing Elvis Presley at the end of a concert at Toledo, Ohio, on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday 22nd November) of that year:
Toledo Gives Thanks—He’s Gone: Elvis Squirms, 6.500 Scream
By Jerry Kabel
Detroit Times Staff Correspondent
Toledo, Nov. 23—The blond girl in the red plaid jacket pounded her fist blue on the stadium seat and her screams came in short gasps.
She clutched her hair and when the rubber band that held her pony tail snapped, she didn’t even notice.
On the stage, Elvis Presley banged his guitar and fell to his knees as if in anguish. His ducktail haircut reversed over his eyes. His hips fought to get free of his legs and he shouted over 6,500 screams:
“You ain’t never caught no rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine.”
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The crowd, almost all girls of high school age, was on its feet and it surged irresistibly forward like molten lava. A policeman was pushed backward over a chair but he scrambled up in time to keep from getting stepped on.
Presley gave his guitar a final bang, flung it from his shoulder and fled the stage seconds ahead of the mob. Outside, a car waited, with door open and motor running.
Elvis had just earned the first half of a $15,000 fee for two Toledo performances on Thanksgiving Day.
By this time, his press agent, Oscar Davis, was on the stage. He grabbed the microphone and yelled:
“Elvis has left the building. Hold it. Hold it. Elvis is gone.”
The girls swept past him. Others ran out side doors and into a parking lot jammed with Michigan and Ohio autos. The girl in the red plaid jacket ran from car to car, her cheeks wet with tears.
Presley was gone. Only the hysteria was left.
A few were convinced that the singer was still hiding in the building. They clustered around the doors and it was an hour before they drifted away.
The 20-man special police force, obviously shaken, reorganized in time to direct parking lot traffic. Davis grinned proudly:
“It takes more men to protect Elvis than Ike1.”
It is true, however, that Elvis has left the building later came to be commonly used as a public announcement at the end of Elvis Presley’s concerts, to inform the fans that there was no possibility of his performing an encore.
But, in the early 1970s, Elvis Presley was no longer provoking hysteria, and the phrase was no longer pertinent. This is exemplified by the following from the Presley era and where it has gone, published in The Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) of Sunday 18th October 1970, in which Jerry Eaton contrasted Presley’s fans in 1956 with the audience at a concert that the singer had given a few weeks earlier at the Coliseum, in Phoenix:
Since the 1950s, the nation has become saturated with young, middle-age and senior citizen imitators of Elvis The Pelvis. Customers today can pick the pelvis of their choice in assorted shapes, sizes and colors—solos, doubles, trios, quartets, quintets, rock, soul and the rest.
In the two decades since the daddy of them all blazed onto the scene, a nation of young people has been weaned on Vietnam, inflation, assassinations, drugs, The Generation Gap, burn baby burn. They bought Elvis at the Coliseum about as much as they buy anything. He turned them on as much as anything. But to them now he’s just another millionaire who puts on his tight trousers one leg at a time, a rich guy who doesn’t walk on the water.
After he finished 55 minutes on stage, Elvis walked off abruptly and the audience began to applaud tentatively, hoping for an encore. Shortly, a voice of an unseen announcer said, “Elvis has left the building. He will not return.”
This time no Cadillac whisked him off Prince Charming-like while he waved to his adoring fans as in 1956. There was no last display of the deep dimple, no last word—not even two fingers signifying peace.
The guys and gals from the Korean War years and the Vietnam War years and the Now Generation filed out of the Coliseum into the warm night. They talked of tomorrow and its problems, diets unfaithfully followed, the kids in school, the neighbors down the street.
They discussed almost everything except Elvis.
The earliest figurative uses of Elvis has left the building allude to the singer’s death on Tuesday 16th August 1977. For example, the singer, songwriter and music promoter John Daniel Sumner (1921-98) used the phrase as the title of a 1977 song. In The Asheville Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina) of Saturday 27th August 1977, John Robinson reported on the memorial to Elvis Presley, staged before 7,500 people at the Asheville Civic Center the night before:
J. D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet presented a song: “Elvis Has Left the Building,” which made its world debut here. It is, of course, a memorial to the King of Rock and Roll.
The earliest transferred figurative use of Elvis has left the building that I have found is from A Toast, Gentlemen, to Looie, by the American sports columnist and author George Vecsey (born 1939), published in The New York Times (New York City, N.Y.) of Sunday 27th March 1983—Luigi P. Carnesecca (born 1925) was the basketball coach at St. John’s University, New York City:
The “most enjoyable” team in Lou Carnesecca’s college coaching career went down Friday night, went down forever. […]
Now, there will be no Final Four for the team, heavy with seniors, that was beaten by Georgia, 70-67, Friday night. As they used to say at the Elvis Presley concerts, “Elvis has left the building. He won’t be back.”
The earliest occurrence of the phrase —— has left the building that I have found is from A Taste of Graceland while goin’ to the mat with the Elvis legend, by Betty Ann Stout, published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas) of Sunday 16th August 1987—Betty Ann Stout told of her trip, with her fiancé Beau, to Graceland, Elvis Presley’s house and museum in Memphis, Tennessee:
The worst thing that happened to me was when Beau rolls up a souvenir place mat and starts hollerin’, “Ladies and gentlemen, Betty Ann Stout has left the building.”
The second-earliest instance of —— has left the building that I have found is from When Is Mookie Up?, by George Vecsey, published in The New York Times (New York City, N.Y.) of Wednesday 28th October 1987—the Twins4 had just won the 1987 World Series championship, won in 1986 by the Mets2:
The Mets2 are dead. Mookie3 has left the building. Long live the Twins4.
2 The New York Mets, professional baseball team based in the New York City borough of Queens
3 William Hayward ‘Mookie’ Wilson (born 1956), American baseball player with the New York Mets from 1980 to 1989
4 The Minnesota Twins, professional baseball team based in Minneapolis, Minnesota