Bob Pietrafeso on Elvis's last Denver concert in April 1976 and how The King was all nervous

Thursday, August 16th marked the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. The iconic singer spent a great deal of time in the Centennial State and had many adventures. In honor of the King, Backbeat is sharing some of these stories.

Dave Herrera
A ticket stub from Elvis's last Denver concert on April 23, 1976 at McNichols Arena

See also:
- Nick Andurlakis on Elvis's beloved Fool's Gold Loaf sandwich
- Retired Denver Police Captain Jerry Kennedy on the time Elvis bought him a Lincoln
- John Bucci on being the proud owner of the church pew Elvis once sat in at Holy Family
- Retired Denver police officer Bob Cantwell on The King's "nurse" making a house call
- Bob Kortz on tracking down a black diamond for The King in the middle of the night
- Jonny Barber recording Elvis singles at Sun Studio tonight

Elvis's last Denver gig took place at McNichols Sports Arena on April 23, 1976. According to former Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy Bob Pietrafeso, who vividly remembers doing security at the singer's final concert in the Mile High City, the King was nervous -- scared, even -- in the final moments leading up to the performance. This was far from Elvis's first visit to Denver. By the time he showed up in the spring of '76, he had become close friends with a number of locals, most notably law enforcement types, Pietrafeso among them.

Flickr/Drive-In Mike
McNichols Sports Arena circa 1994, nearly two decades after the King's last Denver performance, and a half-dozen years before it was razed.

Pietrafeso, like other officers, fondly reminisces about the singer's generosity, including the time Elvis bought him a brand-new Dodge truck, a truck he still has ("He put his arm around me and had the keys dangling in my face. Then he says, 'It's yours.'"). Elvis also gave Pietrafeso one of his famed TCB necklaces. "There's nobody like him, and there will never be another one like him!" says Pietrafeso, launching into a litany of Elvis compliments barely a minute into a conversation about the King. "I couldn't put into words what kind of a guy he was. I feel so fortunate to have known him."

Elvis in the bicentenial suit he reportedly wore at his last Denver performance at McNichols Arena in April 1976.
But one of Pietrafeso's many Elvis stories reveals a characteristic of the man that is hard to fathom: his profound stage fright. The night Elvis performed his last concert in town, he was staying on the top floor of the Hilton downtown. The King always stayed on the highest floors of hotels, so that it would be more difficult for overzealous fans to get to him. Pietrafeso was there, as was his brother, Denver police officer Ron Pietrafeso. When it was time to leave for the show, the brothers joined a small convoy of other cars carrying the singer and his entourage, and five or six vehicles slowly made their way to McNichols Arena.

They entered the middle of the venue, passing through massive utility doors large enough to swallow an eighteen-wheeler. After parking and seeing Elvis's crew file off to their dressing rooms, Ron asked Bob to turn all the cars around to face the exit, so that Elvis and company could make a quick getaway after the show.

Soon after, Pietrafeso found himself in one of the long, circular hallways that surrounded the innards of the arena, doing his normal security doings, looking for anything abnormal. Along comes Elvis and his road manager, Diamond Joe Esposito, ready for the gig -- or almost. Esposito excused himself for a moment to run back to his dressing room, leaving Elvis and Pietrafeso there in the hallway with scores of arena personnel milling about.

Page down for Pietrafeso's account of what happened next

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