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It’s been over 40 years since the death of Elvis Presley. Presley remains a legendary icon. There’s constantly new information about Presley and his death publicized as reporters are still interested in Presley’s life. In a new documentary, reporters from The National Enquirer reveal the lengths they went to score a photo of Presley in his casket. 

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley 1968 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Elvis Presley’s funeral had a no photography policy

Presley died of a heart attack in Memphis, Tennesse in August 1977. The media attention surrounding Presley’s death was massive. Presley’s fans were devastated over his death and tabloids fought for information about his funeral.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley 1958 | Archive Photos/Getty Images

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Despite his celebrity, Presley’s family preferred for his funeral and burial to be private. Photography at Presley’s funeral was forbidden.

Thousands gathered outside Presley’s beloved Graceland to view his open casket. An estimated 80,000 people lined the processional route to the cemetery where Presley would be buried. 

The National Enquirer used decoys to try and get a photo before paying Elvis Presley’s cousin to do the job

The National Enquirer’s reputation of exposing the “worst” of public figures’ private lives made many celebrities fearful. The newspaper was known for garnering salacious stories, no matter the cost.

Reporters were determined to land a photo of Presley in his casket and set up a major operation to do so. Reporters for The National Enquirer explained their process in the documentary Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Inquirer. 

According to one reporter, news about Presley’s death broke at 5 PM and within the hour, six reporters from the paper were on a plane headed to Memphis. The reporters had an extra suitcase with them carrying $50,000.

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley

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The reporters turned a local Holiday Inn into a newsroom, renting out each room to work on stories related to Presley’s death and funeral around the clock. The $50,000 cash they had on deck was used as payments for stories locals leaked to the paper.

The first try at getting a photo of Presley in his casket involved dressing up an older man as a priest. The hired fake priest had a camera under his robe, but the photo he took only showed the casket, leaving reporters at square one.

One of The National Enquirer’s photographers spotted Presley’s cousin at a local bar and approached him with the proposition to snap a photo of Presley in his casket for a set price. The cousin tried and failed multiple times to get a clear photo, typically having to make excuses to go back to the funeral home where Presley was held to view the body. After three shots, he got the photo the reporters needed.

The National Enquirer paid Presley’s cousin $18,000 for the photo. The photo was used on the front page of the paper and sold over 6 million copies – the highest selling for the paper at that point.

Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer is available for streaming on HBO Max.