The tragic backstory to Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock movie

elvis-judytylerCWhen Elvis Presley wrapped filming for his third movie, Jailhouse Rock, on June 25, 1957, the future couldn’t have been brighter. At the top of the music charts and with two successful films under his belt, Presley’s career was at its height.

As filming ended, Elvis said good-bye to his co-star, 24-year-old brunette Judy Tyler, whom he had formed a close friendship with. In Hollywood, he boarded a train headed to Memphis as he looked forward to spending time in his newly purchased home, Graceland.

However, just a week later, Presley received some devastating news: Judy Tyler had been tragically killed. On July 3, 1957, Tyler and her husband died in a car crash in Wyoming. Tyler, who had appeared on Broadway, played Peggy, the business partner and love interest of Elvis’ character, Vince, in the film.

The 22-year-old Elvis was devastated at hearing the news. He asked Memphis DJ and friend, George Klein, to join him as he drove around Memphis all day on July 4 as a way to cope with the loss.  According to Klein, Elvis “kept talking about how good a person Judy was. He drove and talked for hours reminiscing about every moment he’d shared with her.”

“Nothing has hurt me as bad in my life,” Elvis said publicly about Judy’s death. “All of us boys really loved that girl… I don’t believe I can stand to see that movie we made together now, just don’t believe I can.”

Elvis had considered going to Tyler’s funeral, but decided against it in order not to disrupt the service. Although he took his parents to a private screening of the film, many believe that Elvis never watched the film again because of Judy.

Sadly, Judy never got to enjoy the success of Jailhouse Rock since she died three months before the film was released. Elvis believed Jailhouse Rock would have been a breakthrough role for Tyler who had previous success in theater and television.

Jailhouse Rock premiered at Loews State Theater in Memphis on October 17, 1957, but Elvis did not attend. The film proved to be one of Presley’s most successful, earning $8.6 million at the time and ranking number 5 of Elvis Presley’s top-earning films.

More shocking revelations about Elvis’ life and career as well as a full list of Presley’s movies ranked by box office earnings can be found in my new book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend.

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