Lots of historically important events transpired in 1977.  Among others, a newly elected president of the United States was inaugurated, the world’s first personal computer was demonstrated at a consumer electronics show, Apple Computer was incorporated, and a 15-nation nuclear non-proliferation agreement was signed.  The two (far less significant) events I remember most vividly from 1977 were none of these.

Etched in my memory bank is Seattle Slew becoming the tenth winner of the American Triple Crown and the first of two colts to do so while undefeated (Justify was the second in 2018).  Also indelibly impressed in my consciousness is the cult-like figure Elvis Presley dying suddenly on the sixteenth of August at age 42. In fact, I remember the exact room in which I saw the shocking report on television.

The rock and roll king and the horse racing immortal (Seattle Slew was ranked ninth on the Blood-Horse magazine’s poll of the best racehorses of the twentieth century) had something in common besides achieving fame and fortune. At the outset of their careers, their potential for greatness went mostly unrecognized and at times their talent was even disparaged.  Presley’s singing and gyrations were widely panned by the critics of the day and Seattle Slew brought a respectable but bargain-basement $17,500 at a Fasig-Tipton yearling auction (about $92,000 in today’s dollars).  Presley was snubbed by the Grand Old Opry and a putative conformation “expert” said that Seattle Slew’s ears made him look like a mule, as if that affected his running.

A shade over sixty percent of the current U. S. population are under 44 years old, so these folks weren’t alive in 1977 and can only turn to video to get a flavor of what it was like to see Elvis or Slew perform up close.  Those of us old enough to have witnessed both in action are fortunate to have done so.

At the conclusion of a Presley concert, “Elvis has left the building” was routinely announced to indicate to fervent fans in attendance that the singer had vacated the premises.  The terminology evolved to take on a broader meaning—slang for “its over” or “there’s nothing left to say.” Elvis and Slew left their temporal home with enduring legacies. We have rarely seen their likes.

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