In his final months, Elvis confided in his girlfriend Kathy Westmoreland that his greatest regret was never making a “classic film that would be remembered” – and yet he had just turned down Grease.
The entire movie actually draws heavily on the image and stylings of Elvis from the hip swivelling to the quiffs and leather jackets.
When producer Allan Carr originally bought the rights to the 1971 stage musical, he imagined the two leads as being like “Elvis Presley and Ann Margret.”
There really is no Danny Zuko without Elvis while the tone of the movie draw heavily on the frothy big-screen musicals The King made throughout the 1960s.
When the big screen version as greenlit, Carr desperately wanted The King to take part and offered him a juicy role.
Grease was released 45 years ago on June 16, 1978, and Elvis would die on August 16 the previous year.
His health and spirits had been troubled throughout that year, much of which he spent on tour, often spending the night (mainly for comfort) with backing singer Kathy.
She recalled being called to Elvis’ hotel room while they were on tour in May 1977 because he couldn’t sleep: “He said, ‘how are people going to remember me? No-one is going to remember me. I have never done anything lasting, never done a classic film.'”
The producers of Grease had actually offered Elvis the scene-stealing cameo as Teen Angel.
The character memorably performs the number Beauty School Drop-Out to Frenchie and her pals in a fantasy sequence in the diner.
Fellow 1950s heartthrob Frankie Avalon eventually took the role but it’s easy to imagine Elvis (perhaps a little more in his prime) making the part his own.
He was only 42 when he died, but in poor physical condition. Especially when compared to the trim Avalon, who, at 37, was only a few years younger at the time.
Elvis had previously turned down another iconic movie role that could have rebooted and changed his entire Hollywood career when he rejected Barbra Streisand’s offer (and formal contract) to star alongside her in the Oscar-winning A Star Is Born.
It’s assumed that The King’s manager Colonel Parker sank the deal because Streisand would have had top billing and the film portrayed a faded star consumed by his demons.
A cameo in Grease would have had no such issues so it remains a great loss that Elvis was not able to take the part, yet he still found himself ‘present’ in an unexpectedly tragic way.
In the end, the spectre of Elvis would haunt Grease even more vividly when the cast found themselves filming a “creepy” scene on the same day that The King’s death shocked the world.
During Rizzo’s iconic Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee number, Elvis is directly referenced in the line: “Elvis, Elvis, let me be. Keep that pelvis far from me.”
Randall Kleiser later said: “It was very eerie. It was all over the news, so everyone knew. We did this number, and everybody kind of looked at each other like: ‘Yeah, this is creepy.’”