Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), also known simply as Elvis, was an American singer, musician and actor. He is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century and is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll”. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines during a transformative era in race relations, led him to both great success and initial controversy.
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and relocated to Memphis, Tennessee with his family when he was 13 years old. His music career began there in 1954, recording at Sun Records with producer Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience. Presley, on rhythm acoustic guitar, and accompanied by lead guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, was a pioneer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. In 1955, drummer D. J. Fontana joined to complete the lineup of Presley’s classic quartet and RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage him for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States. With a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records, he became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll.
In November 1956, Presley made his film debut in Love Me Tender. Drafted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He held few concerts, however, and guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood films and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided. In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed television comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley gave the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast around the world, Aloha from Hawaii. Years of prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in 1977 at his Graceland estate at the age of 42.
7 Fascinating Facts About Elvis Presley
1. Elvis had a twin.
On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aron (later spelled Aaron) Presley was born at his parents’ two-room house in East Tupelo, Mississippi, about 35 minutes after his identical twin brother, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. The next day, Jesse was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby Priceville Cemetery.
Elvis, who spoke of his twin throughout his life, grew up an only child in a poor family. His father, Vernon, worked a series of odd jobs, and in 1938 was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a $4 check (he spent less than a year behind bars). In 1948, the Presleys moved from Tupelo to Memphis in search of better opportunities. There, Elvis attended Humes High School, where he failed a music class and was considered quiet and an outsider. He graduated in 1953, becoming the first member of his immediate family to earn a high school diploma. After graduation, he worked at a machinist shop and drove a truck before launching his music career with the July 1954 recording of “That’s All Right.”
2. Elvis bought Graceland when he was 22.
In 1957, Elvis shelled out $102,500 for Graceland, the Memphis mansion that served as his home base for two decades. Situated on nearly 14 acres, it was built in 1939 by Dr. Thomas Moore and his wife Ruth on land that once was part of a 500-acre farm dubbed Graceland in honor of the original owner’s daughter, Grace, who was Ruth Moore’s great-aunt. The Moores’ white-columned home also came to be known as Graceland, and when Elvis purchased the place he kept the name.
The entertainer made a number of updates to the property over the years, including the addition of music-themed iron entrance gates, a “jungle room” with an indoor waterfall and a racquetball building. After finding out President Lyndon Johnson enjoyed watching all three network news programs simultaneously, Elvis was inspired to have a wall of built-in TVs installed in his home. In 1982, five years after Elvis was found dead in a bathroom at Graceland, his ex-wife Priscilla Presley opened the estate to the public for tours. Some 600,000 fans now flock there each year. Elvis’ only child, Lisa Marie Presley, inherited Graceland when she turned 25 in 1993 and continues to operate it today.
In 2006, George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Graceland, when he traveled there with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a die-hard Elvis fan.
elvis and tom parker
Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker (Credit: GAB Archive/Redferns)
3. Elvis’ controversial manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was a former carnival barker.
Born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in the Netherlands in 1909, Elvis’s future manager immigrated illegally to America as a young man, where he reinvented himself as Tom Parker and claimed to be from West Virginia (his true origins weren’t known publicly until the 1980s). He worked as a pitchman for traveling carnivals, followed by stints as dog catcher and pet cemetery founder, among other occupations, then managed the careers of several country music singers. In 1948, Parker finagled the honorary title of colonel from the governor of Louisiana and henceforth insisted on being referred to as the Colonel.
After learning about the up-and-coming Elvis in 1955, Parker negotiated the sale of the singer’s contract with tiny Sun Records to RCA, a major label, and officially took over as his manager in 1956. Under the Colonel’s guidance, Elvis shot to stardom: His first single for RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel,” released in 1956, became the first of his career to sell more than 1 million copies; his debut album, “Elvis Presley,” topped Billboard’s pop album chart; and he made his big-screen debut in 1956’s “Love Me Tender.”
The portly, cigar-chomping Parker controlled Elvis’ career for the next two decades, helping him achieve enormous success while at the same time taking commissions of as much as 50 percent of the entertainer’s earnings and drawing criticism from observers that he was holding Elvis back creatively. Parker outlived his protégé by 20 years, dying in 1997 at age 87 in Las Vegas.
4. Elvis served in the Army after he was already famous.
In December 1957, Elvis, by then a major star, was drafted into the U.S. military. After receiving a short deferment so he could wrap up production on his film “King Creole,” the 23-year-old was inducted into the Army as a private on March 24, 1958, amidst major media coverage. Assigned to the Second Armored Division, he attended basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. That August, while still at Fort Hood, he was granted emergency leave to visit his beloved mother, who was in poor health. Gladys Presley passed away at age 46 on August 14, 1958. The following month, Elvis shipped out for an assignment with the Third Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany, where he served as a jeep driver and continued to receive stacks of fan mail.
While in Germany, he lived off base with his father and grandmother Minnie Mae Presley. It was also during this time that Elvis met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of a U.S. Air Force captain. (After a lengthy courtship, Elvis and Priscilla married in 1967; the couple divorced in 1973.) Elvis was honorably discharged from active duty in March 1960, having achieved the rank of sergeant. His first post-Army movie, “G.I. Blues,” was released that November of that same year. The film’s soundtrack spent 10 weeks at the top of the Billboard album music chart and remained on the chart for a total of 111 weeks, the longest of any album in Elvis’ career.
5. Elvis never performed outside of North America.
An estimated 40 percent of Elvis’ music sales have been outside the United States; however, with the exception a handful of concerts he gave in Canada in 1957, he never performed on foreign soil. A number of sources have suggested that Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, turned down lucrative offers for the singer to perform abroad because Parker was an illegal immigrant and feared he wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S. if he traveled overseas.
elvis on ed sullivan
Elvis’ second appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” October 26, 1956.
6. Elvis was burned in effigy after an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
In the summer of 1956, Colonel Parker arranged a deal for Elvis to make three appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for a then-whopping fee of $50,000. Although Sullivan previously had said he wouldn’t book the hip-swiveling, lip-curling singer on his family-oriented TV variety show, he relented after competitor Steve Allen featured Elvis on his show in July 1956 and clobbered Sullivan in the ratings. When Elvis made his first appearance on Sullivan’s program on September 9, 1956, 60 million people—more than 80 percent of the TV viewing audience—tuned in. (As it happened, Sullivan, who had been injured in a car accident that August, was unable to host the show.) After the singer made his second appearance in October, crowds in Nashville and St. Louis, outraged by the singer’s sexy performance and concerned that rock music would corrupt America’s teens, burned and hanged Elvis in effigy.
The singer made his final appearance on Sullivan’s show in January 1957, and this time network censors demanded he be filmed from the waist up. Despite this requirement, at the end of the program, Sullivan gave the entertainer a special nod, telling the audience Elvis was “a real decent, fine boy,” and letting him know that “we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you.”
7. Elvis bought Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential yacht.
In 1964, Elvis paid $55,000 for the Potomac, the 165-foot-long vessel that served as FDR’s “floating White House” from 1936 to 1945. Constructed in 1934, the Potomac originally was a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. After the president’s death in 1945, the ship was decommissioned and had a series of owners before Elvis bought it. However, he soon donated it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which in turn sold the vessel to raise money. (In 1980, the Potomac, then being used by drug smugglers, was seized in San Francisco by U.S. Customs. It later was restored and opened to the public.)
Elvis’ yacht donation was one of many charitable acts after he would make during his life. In addition to giving away cars, jewelry and cash to friends and strangers, he performed a number of benefit concerts. One such performance, in 1961, generated more than $50,000 toward the completion of the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii. Work on the project, a tribute to the more than 1,100 men who died aboard the USS Arizona during the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, had begun years earlier then stalled due to a lack of funds. Elvis’ concert, for which tickets ranged from $3 to $100, helped reinvigorate fund-raising efforts for the memorial, and it was dedicated the following year.
17 Amazing Facts About Elvis Presley
1. ELVIS PRESLEY IS CLOSELY ASSOCIATED WITH TENNESSEE, BUT HE WAS BORN IN MISSISSIPPI.
MGM, PUBLIC DOMAIN // WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Though he’ll forever be associated with Memphis, Tennessee, home to his Graceland mansion, Elvis Presley was actually born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. It was there that Presley began to sing and play guitar, sometimes even bringing the instrument to school to play gospel music for his classmates. It wasn’t until 1948, when the future King was 13 years old, that the Presley family moved to Memphis.
2. MUSIC CRITICS WERE FAIRLY CRUEL TO ELVIS PRESLEY IN THE EARLY DAYS OF HIS CAREER.
Though Presley is one of music’s most respected icons now, early on in his career, many critics mocked everything from his voice to his explicit dancing. “He cannot sing and his whole performance is crude and disgusting,” columnist Dorothy Ricker wrote in the Tampa Bay Times in 1956, before predicting that “in a comparatively short time he will be forgotten.” (Oops!)
In an October 1957 column, Paul Coates of the Los Angeles Mirror went so far as to write that he’d like to “smack that sneer off [Elvis’s] face and send him out for a haircut.”
3. THE COVER OF ELVIS PRESLEY’S DEBUT RECORD INFLUENCED ANOTHER CLASSIC ROCK ALBUM.
RCA VICTOR AND EPIC RECORDS
Elvis’s self-titled debut album, which was released in 1956, included classic hits like “Blue Suede Shoes” and his rendition of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.” Its cover imposed Presley’s name in simple green and pink font on a candid photo of him singing, eyes closed and mouth agape, while strumming a guitar. Another classic album cover paid tribute to this debut decades later: The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling depicts bassist Paul Simonon smashing his own instrument alongside similar text.
4. ELVIS PRESLEY’S IDENTICAL TWIN BROTHER DIED AT BIRTH.
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Elvis had an identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who was stillborn. He was buried in a cemetery near the Presleys’ Mississippi home soon after they were delivered.
5. A TV APPEARANCE EARNED ELVIS PRESLEY THE NICKNAME “ELVIS THE PELVIS.”
Presley’s stage persona drew as much attention as his music, especially after he suggestively gyrated his hips while singing “Hound Dog” on the June 5, 1956 edition of NBC’s The Milton Berle Show. The performance earned the 21-year-old the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis,” along with the ire of multiple religious leaders and critics in the media. At the same time, it also gained him the admiration of even more young fans.
6. ELVIS PRESLEY BOUGHT GRACELAND WHEN HE WAS 22 YEARS OLD.
Elvis’s Memphis mansion, known as Graceland, is now a museum devoted to “The King,” who died there in 1977. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to see Presley memorabilia and walk through the mansion’s famously campy, tiki-influenced Jungle Room, where Elvis held some of his final recording sessions. Elvis was just 22 when he bought the estate in 1957 for just over $100,000. The mansion itself was named after Grace Toof, one of the original owners.
7. ELVIS PRESLEY GOT SPECIAL PERMISSION TO POSTPONE HIS ARMY SERVICE TO FILM KING CREOLE.
Elvis received his Army draft notice in December 1957, much to the dismay of the legions of fans who wrote to the military urging that their hero be excused from service. He was granted an eight-week deferment to finish filming the movie King Creole before starting basic training in March 1958. Presley, who was clear that he didn’t want any special treatment, spent two years in the Army, including 18 months in Germany, where he was promoted to sergeant. His service even inspired the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie, about a teen idol named Conrad Birdie being drafted into the Army.
8. ELVIS PRESLEY’S LOVE OF FATTY FOODS WAS PRODIGIOUS, ESPECIALLY IF BACON WAS INVOLVED.
Elvis is famously associated with a sandwich made with peanut butter, bacon, and banana, then pan-fried in butter like an even fattier grilled cheese. It wasn’t his only extreme dietary indulgence, though: “The King” also enjoyed deep-fried pickles and is said to have once flown from Memphis to Denver just for a massive Fool’s Gold Loaf sandwich, which involves stuffing a pound of bacon, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly inside a buttery loaf of hollowed-out French bread.
9. ELVIS PRESLEY HAD A HABIT OF SHOOTING AT APPLIANCES AND OTHER HOUSEHOLD ITEMS.
Most famously, Elvis once opened fire at a Graceland television that was showing a performance by crooner Robert Goulet. Years later, Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern told the Associated Press that the incident was nothing against Goulet personally, saying, “Elvis just shot out things on a random basis.” (In a sort of strange twist, Priscilla Presley ended up starring opposite Goulet many years later, in 1991’s The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.)
Presley also built a firing range at Graceland and reportedly had a habit of floating flashbulbs in his pool and shooting at them as he indulged on watermelon.
10. ELVIS PRESLEY APPEARED IN MORE THAN 30 MOVIES THROUGHOUT HIS CAREER.
Elvis appeared as an actor in 31 movies between 1956 and 1972, including Jailhouse Rock; G.I. Blues; and Girls, Girls, Girls. The films and Presley’s performances were often panned by critics, but at the peak of Elvis’s career, they brought his devoted fans to movie theaters in droves—then to record stores to pick up the soundtracks that accompanied the movies. In all, only one of Elvis’s movies lost money at the box office: 1961’s Wild in the Country.
11. ELVIS PRESLEY’S DAUGHTER, LISA MARIE PRESLEY, HAS HER OWN MUSIC CAREER.
While she’ll forever be known as Elvis Presley’s only child (and for marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage), Lisa Marie Presley is also a musician in her own right. She has released three albums, including the 2003 gold-certified release To Whom It May Concern, and has collaborated with a wide array of musicians, including Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan, rock icon Pat Benatar, and even Elvis himself, who posthumously joined his daughter for a duet of “Don’t Cry Daddy,” thanks to some clever editing of the original recordings.
12. ELVIS PRESLEY’S PHOTO WITH RICHARD NIXON IS ONE OF THE MOST REQUESTED AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES.
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Once called a threat to American decency, Elvis wrangled a meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1970. “I’m on your side,” Presley told the president, while clad in a distinctive purple velvet suit. Nixon also arranged for Elvis, who collected police insignia, to get a souvenir badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. “The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him,” then-wife Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir. In 2015, the U.S. National Archives confirmed that the photo of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands gets more requests for reproduction by the public than any other in its collection.
13. ELVIS PRESLEY HAD A BLACK BELT IN KARATE.
While stationed in Germany with the Army, Presley began studying karate, which would remain a passion for him throughout his life. He was awarded his seventh-degree black belt in 1972, and he used his knowledge of the fighting technique to choreograph combat scenes in his movies. He would even show off some of his moves on stage during concerts.
14. ELVIS PRESLEY’S MANAGER, COLONEL TOM PARKER, WAS ONLY KIND OF A COLONEL.
Elvis’s career was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, known for his strict control over his performances and for taking half of Elvis’s earnings as his fee. (“He takes 50 percent of everything I earn,” Parker quipped of Presley.) Despite being called “Colonel,” Parker never came close to the rank when in the Army. It was an honorary title he received from country singer and songwriter Jimmie Davis after Parker aided Davis’s successful bid for Louisiana governor.
15. ELVIS PRESLEY HAD AN ECLECTIC PET MENAGERIE AT GRACELAND.
Once he moved to Graceland, Elvis had no shortage of animals on site, from donkeys and a monkey to more conventional pets like dogs and horses. There was even a mynah bird that learned to mimic strings of profanity while hanging around Elvis and his friends. Visitors to Graceland can see the horses the museum keeps today in honor of Elvis and his array of animals.
16. ELVIS PRESLEY HAD ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL CONCERT RESIDENCIES IN HISTORY.
The singer of “Viva Las Vegas” once performed a now-astonishing 636 sold-out shows at Vegas’s International Hotel, appearing twice a night, seven days a week beginning in 1969. The appearances cemented a career resurgence that began with a comeback special, which aired on NBC in 1968. Years after Elvis and other early rockers had yielded the pop charts to newer acts like The Beatles in the early ’60s, “The King” was back.
17. ELVIS PRESLEY NEVER PERFORMED OUTSIDE OF NORTH AMERICA.
HULTON ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
Although his music remains popular around the world, Elvis Presley almost never performed abroad. In fact, his only appearances outside the United States were all in Canada. The reason why is unclear, although it’s often been suggested that the decision may have been related to the uncertain immigration status of his longtime manager, Netherlands-born Colonel Tom Parker.
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