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The story of how Elvis Presley defended a man with karate just weeks before his death

Elvis Presley is one of the most iconic performers of all time. His suave image has been imitated countless times over the years, and he ranks amongst artists such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan in terms of significance in popular culture. Elvis helped to hasten the onset of – and popularise – rock ‘n’ roll as we know it today, and is also credited with easing race relations through “opening” up the door to “black music” in the mainstream.

Celebrated for his music and acting credits, Elvis is also remembered for his altruistic spirit. Just two months before he passed away on June 24th, 1977, the overweight and ailing Elvis defended a person from being attacked. At 1am on the 24th, Elvis witnessed a young petrol station worker being assaulted by a pair of assailants in Madison, Wisconsin.

Given that it is a well-known fact that Elvis had a longstanding love for martial arts that originated from his military service between 1958 and 1960, he was prepared. Between 1970 and 1974, Elvis trained under the tutelage of Master Kang Rhee in Memphis and eventually secured the hallowed Black Belt in September 1974. Famously, Elvis’ love for martial arts would become an essential staple of his live show, with his performance featuring karate moves.

After landing in Wisconsin late on the evening of June 23rd, Elvis and his retinue were stopped at a red light when they saw 17-year-old Keith Lowry Jr pinned to the ground by two other teenagers on the forecourt of the Skyland Service station. Travelling in a limousine, Elvis’ entourage also included police officer Tom McCarthy as extra security.

McCarthy recalled Elvis pronouncing: “Look at those two punks”. The King’s security and management attempted to stop him from getting involved, as it was late at night, and they thought it not worth the risk.

The security promised Elvis that they’d call the police when they arrived at the hotel, but as the car began to move, Elvis jumped out of the vehicle. He approached the men from behind and struck a karate pose, declaring: “I’ll take you two on,” McCarthy noted, adding: “He was willing to fight, that was the bad thing”.

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Dick Grob, another security guard who was travelling with Elvis, recalled: “I almost fainted. God, here was Elvis jumping out of the car in the middle of a street brawl without letting us know what he was going to do. Hell, he could have been shot”.

Expecting to watch The King have a tear up, the shocked onlookers in the limousine were relieved to see all three youths look up, frozen “in total awe” when they realised the man offering them out was none other than America’s biggest star. Lowry ran straight into the shop to ring friends and told them that Elvis was there.

As for the two attackers, Elvis calmed them down and shook their hands, concluding the matter with: “Is everything settled now?”. A crowd quickly gathered, and Elvis stayed to do what he did best, be a man of the people. He shook hands, signed autographs and took photographs before returning back to the vehicle.

Allegedly, when he got back in the limousine, Elvis was overjoyed, cracking up with laughter, saying: “Did you see those guys’ faces?”. Well, they didn’t call him The King for no reason. It’s a shame that he wouldn’t see the end of 1977, but it is through brilliant anecdotes like these, as well as his iconic music, that his spirit endures and will continue to do so forevermore.

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