Elvis Presley‘s “Heartbreak Hotel” is one of his most iconic songs of all time. Released on January 27, 1956, the song remained in the top spot of the Billboard Top 100 chart for seven weeks and was also Elvis’ first single to sell a million units.
“Heartbreak Hotel” is such a treasured part of music history that it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1995 and was included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list. It has since been covered by artists of all genres, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Although “Heartbreak Hotel” is one of Elvis’ most well-known songs, there has always been an element of mystery surrounding the tune. The mystery has to do with its background, and how one of the song’s co-writers, Tommy Durden, came up with the idea.
Written the year before its release, Durden always stated that he was inspired to write the tune after he read a report in The Miami Herald. According to Durden, he read a story about a man who committed suicide after jumping from a hotel window, but he left behind an unusual suicide note. Durden said that note only contained a single line, which read “I walk a lonely street.“
It’s that story that Durden always claimed as the source behind “Heartbreak Hotel.” But something has puzzled researchers for decades. No one had been able to find that 1955 Miami Herald article that Durden said he read.
Not only has no one been able to find the Miami Herald Article, but Durden’s co-writer on the song, Mae Boren Axton, was quoted as saying in the book, Last Train to Memphis: Rise of Elvis Presley, that Durden’s claims of being inspired by the suicide story “stunned” her.
Instead, Axton claimed that she and Durden sat down and worked on the song together, when she said to him, “Everybody in the world has someone who cares. Let’s put a Heartbreak Hotel at the end of this lonely street.“
However, Randy Boswell, a journalism professor at Carleton University, may have finally solved the 60-year long mystery surrounding “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Boswell told Ottawa CTV News that after checking the Miami newspaper archives with no success, he started checking papers in El Paso, Texas. During his search, he came across an article about a man who was killed while attempting to rob a liquor store. According to the article, this man had previously told police that he led a criminal lifestyle because of heartbreak, and that he was “a person who walks a lonely street.“
The date on the newspaper was August 1955, which made Boswell wonder if this was actually the article that Durden claimed he read. To him, too many of the details line up to simply be a coincidence.
“The timing is right,” Boswell said. “The type of story is correct, and of course above all, the phrase.“
So why did Durden claim he read such an article in the Miami Herald? Since the article was picked up by the wire service and reprinted in newspapers throughout the South, it’s likely Durden could have read it in his local paper.
Finally, after all this time, there seems to be an answer to the mystery around “Heartbreak Hotel.” What do you think of this new discovery?