Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935–August 16, 1977, middle name sometimes written Aron,a) was an American singer, musician and actor. He is considered a cultural icon, recognized simply by his first name. He is also referred to as the "The King of Rock 'n' Roll", or as "The King".
Presley began his career as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing "black" and "white" sounds, made him popular—and controversial—as did his uninhibited stage and television performances. He recorded songs in the rock and roll genre, with tracks like "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock" later embodying the style. Presley had a versatile voice and had unusually wide success encompassing other genres, including gospel, blues, ballads and pop. To date, he has been inducted into four music halls of fame.
In the 1960s, Presley made the majority of his thirty-one movies—mainly poorly reviewed, but financially successful, musicals. In 1968, he returned with acclaim to live music in a television special, and thereafter performed across the U.S., notably in Las Vegas. Throughout his career, he set records for concert attendance, television ratings and recordings sales. He is one of the best-selling and most influential artists in the history of popular music. Health problems, drug dependency and other factors led to his premature death at age 42.
1.1 Early life
1.2 Early musical influences
1.3 First recordings and performances
1.4 Breakthrough, 1956
1.5 Controversial King
1.6 Military service and mother's death
1.7 Acting career
1.8 Sex symbol
1.10 Influence of Colonel Parker and others
1.11 1968 comeback
1.13 Divorce from Priscilla
1.14 Aloha From Hawaii
1.16 Final year and death
4 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Elvis Presley was of mixed ancestry. His father, Vernon (April 10, 1916–June 26, 1979), had several low-paying jobs, including sharecropper and truck driver. His mother, Gladys Love Smith (April 25, 1912–August 14, 1958) worked as a sewing machine operator. They met in Tupelo, Mississippi, and eloped to Pontotoc County where they married on June 17, 1933.
Presley was born in a two-room shotgun house, built by his father, in East Tupelo. He was an identical twin—his brother was stillborn and given the name Jesse Garon. Growing up as an only child he "was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother." The family lived just above the poverty line and attended an Assembly of God church. Vernon has been described as "a malingerer, always averse to work and responsibility." His wife was "voluble, lively, full of spunk" and had a fondness for drink. In 1938, Vernon was jailed for an eight dollar check forgery. During his absence, his boss, Mr. Bass, called in a note Vernon had signed for the money he borrowed to build their house. Because Gladys couldn't make the payment, she and her son lost the family home and had to move in with relatives.
In September, 1942, Presley entered first grade at Lawhorn School in Tupelo. Presley was sometimes bullied; classmates threw "things at him—rotten fruit and stuff—because he was different... he stuttered and he was a mama's boy." Despite this, he was considered a "well-mannered and quiet child".
On October 3, 1945, at age ten, he made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show at the suggestion of his teacher Mrs. J.C. Grimes. Dressed as a cowboy, the young Presley had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone and sang Red Foley's "Old Shep." He came in second place and won $5 and a free ticket to all the rides.
In 1946, for his eleventh birthday, Presley received his first guitar. He had wanted a bicycle or rifle for his birthday, but his parents could only afford a guitar. Over the following year, Vernon's brother, Vester, would give Elvis basic guitar lessons. In September 1948 the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, allegedly because Vernon—in addition to needing work—had to escape the law for transporting bootleg liquor. In 1949, they lived at Lauderdale Courts, a public housing development in one of Memphis' poorer sections. Presley practised playing guitar in the laundry room and also played in a five-piece band with other tenants. Another resident, Johnny Burnette, recalled, "Wherever Elvis went he'd have his guitar slung across his back... [H]e'd go in to one of the cafes or bars... Then some folks would say: 'Let's hear you sing, boy.'" Presley attended L. C. Humes High School, but fellow students viewed the young singer's performing unfavorably: one recalled that he was "a sad, shy, not especially attractive boy" whose guitar playing was not likely to win any prizes. Some children made fun of him as a 'trashy' kind of boy playing 'trashy' hillbilly music." Others, however, "would beg him" to sing, but Presley was apparently too shy to perform.
In September, 1950, Presley occasionally worked evenings as an usher at Loew's State Theater—his first job—to boost the family income, but his mother made him quit as she feared it was affecting his school work. He did eventually return to Loew's in June the following year, but was fired after a fistfight over a female employee. He began to grow his sideburns and, when he could afford to, dress in the wild, flashy clothes of Lansky Brothers on Beale Street. He stood out, especially in the conservative Deep South of the 1950s, and was mocked and bullied for it. Despite any unpopularity or shyness, he was a contestant in his school's 1952 "Annual Minstrel Show" and won by receiving the most applause and thus an encore (he sang "Cold Cold Icy Fingers" and "Till I Waltz Again With You").
After graduation, Presley was still rather shy, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home". His third job was driving a truck for the Crown Electric Company. He began wearing his hair longer with a "ducktail"—the style of truck drivers at that time.
Early musical influences
Initial influences came through his family's attendance at the Assembly of God, a Pentecostal Holiness church. Rolling Stone wrote: "Gospel pervaded Elvis' character and was a defining and enduring influence all of his days." During breaks at recording sessions or after concerts, Presley often joined in private with others for informal gospel music sessions.
The young Presley frequently listened to local radio; his first musical hero was family friend Mississippi Slim, a hillbilly singer with a radio show on Tupelo’s WELO. Presley performed occasionally on Slim’s Saturday morning show, Singin’ and Pickin’ Hillbilly. "He was crazy about music... That’s all he talked about," recalls his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slim’s younger brother. Before he was a teenager, music was already Presley’s "consuming passion". J. R. Snow, son of 1940s country superstar Hank Snow, recalls that even as a young man Presley knew all of Hank Snow’s songs, "even the most obscure".
In Memphis, Presley went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths, playing old records and new releases for hours. He was an audience member at the all-night black and white "gospel sings" downtown. Memphis Symphony Orchestra concerts at Overton Park were another Presley favorite, along with the Metropolitan Opera. His small record collection included Mario Lanza and Dean Martin. Presley later said, "I just loved music. Music period."
Memphis had a strong tradition of blues music and Presley went to blues as well as hillbilly venues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African American composers and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King. King says that he "knew Elvis before he was popular. He used to come around and be around us a lot ... on Beale Street."
Presley "was an untrained musician who played entirely by ear. 'I don't read music,' he confessed, 'but I know what I like.' ... Because he was not a songwriter, Presley [would] rarely [have] material prepared for recording sessions..." When later, as a young singer, he "ventured into the recording studio he was heavily influenced by the songs he had heard on the jukebox and radio."
First recordings and performances
Main article: Elvis Presley's Sun recordings
On July 18, 1953, Presley went to Sun Records' Memphis Recording Service to record "My Happiness" with "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", supposedly a present for his mother. During his initial introduction at Sun Records, assistant Marion Keisker asked him who he sounded like. Presley replied: "I don't sound like nobody." On January 4, 1954, he cut a second acetate. Sun Records boss Sam Phillips was on the lookout for someone who could deliver a blend of black blues and boogie-woogie music; he thought it would be very popular among white people. When Phillips acquired a demo recording of "Without Love (There Is Nothing)" and was unable to identify the vocalist, Keisker reminded him about the young truck driver. She called him on June 26, 1954. Presley was not able to do justice to the song (though he would record it years later). Phillips would later recall that "Elvis was probably as nervous as anybody, black or white, that I had seen in front of a microphone." Despite this, Phillips invited local musicians Winfield "Scotty" Moore and Bill Black to audition Presley. Though they were not overly impressed, a studio session was planned.
During a recording break, Presley began "acting the fool" first with Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right (Mama)". Phillips got them all to restart and began taping. This was the sound he had been looking for. The group recorded other songs, including Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky". "That's All Right" was aired on July 8, 1954, by DJ Dewey Phillips.b Listeners to the show began jamming the phone lines, eager to find out who the singer was. Requests for the song were so high, that Phillips ended up playing it fourteen times during the one show. During an interview on the show, Phillips asked Presley what high school he went to (a polite way of letting the audience know what colour Presley was). After its release, both sides of "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon of Kentucky" began to chart across the South.
Moore and Black began playing regularly with Presley. They gave a few performances in July 1954 to promote the Sun single at the Bon Air, a rowdy music club where the band was not well-received.On July 30 the trio, billed as The Blue Moon Boys, made their first paid appearance at the Overton Park Shell, with Slim Whitman headlining. A nervous Presley's legs were said to have shaken uncontrollably during this show: his wide-legged pants emphasized his leg movements, apparently causing females in the audience to go "crazy". Scotty Moore claims it was just the natural way he moved and had nothing to do with "nerves." Presley consciously incorporated similar movements into future shows.
DJ and promoter Bob Neal became the trio's manager (replacing Scotty Moore). Moore and Black left their band, the Starlite Wranglers and, from August through October 1954, appeared with Presley at The Eagle's Nest. Presley debuted at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on October 2; Hank Snow introduced Presley on stage. He performed "Blue Moon of Kentucky" but received only a polite response. Afterwards, the singer was allegedly told by the Opry's Jim Denny: "Boy, you’d better keep driving that truck.", though others deny it was Denny. Country music promoter and manager Tillman Franks booked Presley for the Louisiana Hayride on October 16. Before Franks saw Presley, he referred to him as "that new black singer with the funny name".During Presley's first set, the reaction was muted; for the second, Franks advised Presley to "Let it all go!" As house drummer D.J. Fontana (who had worked in strip clubs) complemented Presley's movements with accented beats and Bill Black engaged in his usual stage antics, the crowd was more responsive.
According to one source, "Audiences had never before heard [such] music... [or] seen anyone who performed like Presley either. The shy, polite, mumbling boy gained self-confidence with every appearance... People watching the show were astounded and shocked, both by the ferocity of his performance, and the crowd’s reaction to it... Roy Orbison saw Presley for the first time in Odessa, Texas: 'His energy was incredible, his instinct was just amazing... I just didn’t know what to make of it. There was just no reference point in the culture to compare it.'" Sam Phillips said Presley "put every ounce of emotion ... into every song, almost as if he was incapable of holding back."
By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides credited to "Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill", all typical of the developing Presley style. That style proved hard to categorize; he was billed or labeled in the media as "The King of Western Bop", "The Hillbilly Cat" and "The Memphis Flash". He was also dubbed "Elvis the Pelvis" which Presley disliked, calling it "one of the most childish expressions I ever heard."
On August 15, 1955, "Colonel" Tom Parker became Presley's manager, signing him to a one year contract plus renewals.Several major record labels had shown interest in signing Presley and, by the end of October 1955, three major labels had made offers up to $25,000. On November 21, 1955, Parker and Phillips negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for an unprecedented $40,000, $5,000 of which was a bonus for the singer for back royalties owed to him by Sun Records (Presley, at 20, was officially still a minor, so his father had to sign the contract). By December 1955, RCA had begun to heavily promote its newest star, and by the month's end had re-released all of his Sun recordings.
The iconic cover of Elvis Presley's debut RCA Victor album. Photo taken on January 31, 1955To increase the singer's exposure, Parker finally brought Presley to television (In March 1955, Presley had failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts). He booked six Dorsey Brothers' Stage Show appearances (CBS), beginning January 28, 1956, when Presley was introduced by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. Parker also obtained a lucrative two-show deal with Milton Berle (NBC).
On January 10, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville, Tennessee. The session produced "Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One" which was released on January 27. The public reaction to "Heartbreak Hotel" prompted RCA to release it as a single in its own right (February 11). By April it had hit number one in the U.S., selling in excess of one million copies. On March 23, RCA Victor released Elvis Presley, his first album. Like the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were country songs.
On April 1, Presley launched his acting career with a screen-test for Paramount Pictures. His first motion-picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21 (See 'Acting career').
Presley appeared on The Milton Berle Show from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego on April 3. His performance was cheered by a live audience of appreciative sailors and their dates. A few days after this appearance, a flight taking Presley's band to Nashville for a recording session left all three badly shaken (the plane lost an engine and almost went down over Texas). After more hectic touring, Presley returned to The Milton Berle Show on June 5 and performed "Hound Dog" (without his guitar). Singing it uptempo, he then began a slower version. His exaggerated, straight-legged shuffle around the microphone stand stirred the audience—as did his vigorous leg shaking and hip thrusts in time to the beat. Presley's "gyrations" created a storm of controversy—even eclipsing the 'communist threat' headlines prevalent at the time. The press described his performance as "vulgar" and "obscene". Presley was obliged to explain himself on the local New York City TV show Hy Gardner Calling: "Rock and roll music, if you like it, and you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I have to move around. I can't stand still. I've tried it, and I can't do it."
From April 23, Presley was scheduled to perform four weeks at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip—billed this time as "the Atomic Powered Singer". His shows were so badly received by critics and the conservative guests, that Colonel Parker cut short the engagement from four weeks to two. . While in Vegas, Presley saw Freddie Bell and the Bellboys live, and liked their version of Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog". By May 16, he had added the song to his own act.
The Berle shows drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance in New York on July 1. Allen wanted "to do a show the whole family can watch" and introduced a "new Elvis" in white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang "Hound Dog" for less than a minute to a Basset Hound in a top hat. According to one author, "Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd... [he] set things up so that Presley would show his contrition..."The day after (July 2), the single "Hound Dog" was recorded and Scotty Moore said they were "all angry about their treatment the previous night".(Presley often referred to the Allen show as the most ridiculous performance of his career.) A few days later, Presley made a "triumphant" outdoor appearance in Memphis at which he announced: "You know, those people in New York are not gonna change me none. I'm gonna show you what the real Elvis is like tonight."
Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Presley on The Steve Allen Show and their first recording session together produced "Any Way You Want Me", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog". The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Though Presley had been unhappy, Allen's show had, for the first time, beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings, causing a critical Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
Presley's first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was seen by some 55–60 million viewers. "Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows and on the Berle show, it was ice cream." On the third Sullivan show, Presley sang only slow paced ballads and a gospel song.The fact that Presley was only shown from the waist up and "stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem girl" during this last broadcast has led to claims that Sullivan had "censored" or even "buried" the singer, or that Colonel Parker had orchestrated the episode to generate publicity. In spite of any misgivings about the controversial nature of his performing style (see 'Sex symbol'), Sullivan declared at the end of the third appearance that Presley was "a real decent, fine boy" and that they had never had "a pleasanter experience" on the show.
On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording. Sam Phillips made sure the session of the three performing was recorded; the results would later appear on a bootlegged recording titled The Million Dollar Quartet in 1977 (Johnny Cash is often thought to have performed with the trio, but he was only present briefly at Phillips' instigation for a photo opportunity). RCA would eventually iron out legal difficulties and release an authorized version a few years later.
On December 29, Billboard revealed that Presley had the most songs in the Top 100 since the chart began.
Crowd frenzy at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 1956
Presley in a promotional photo for Jailhouse Rock released by MGM on November 8, 1957Main article: Cultural impact of Elvis Presley
When "That's All Right" was played, many listeners were sure Presley must be black, and most white disc-jockeys wouldn't play his Sun singles. However, black disc-jockeys didn't want anything to do with a record made by a white man. To some, Presley had undoubtedly "stolen" or at least "derived his style from the Negro rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940s", though such criticism ignored Presley's use of "white" musical styles. Some black entertainers, notably Jackie Wilson, argued: "A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis."
By the spring of 1956, Presley was becoming popular nationwide and teenagers flocked to his concerts. Scotty Moore recalled: "He’d start out, 'You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,' and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time." Bob Neal wrote: "It was almost frightening, the reaction... from teenage boys. So many of them, through some sort of jealousy, would practically hate him." In Lubbock, Texas, a teenage gang fire-bombed Presley's car. Some performers became resentful (or resigned to the fact) that Presley's unmatched hustle onstage before them would "kill" their own act; he thus rose quickly to top billing. At the two concerts he performed at the 1956 Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, one hundred National Guardsmen were on hand to prevent crowd trouble.
To many adults, the singer was "the first rock symbol of teenage rebellion. ... they did not like him, and condemned him as depraved. Anti-Negro prejudice doubtless figured in adult antagonism. Regardless of whether parents were aware of the Negro sexual origins of the phrase 'rock 'n' roll', Presley impressed them as the visual and aural embodiment of sex." In 1956, a critic for the New York Daily News wrote that popular music "has reached its lowest depths in the 'grunt and groin' antics of one Elvis Presley" and the Jesuits denounced him in its weekly magazine, America. Even Frank Sinatra opined: "His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people." Presley responded to this (and other derogatory comments Sinatra made) by saying: "I admire the man. He has a right to say what he wants to say. He is a great success and a fine actor, but I think he shouldn't have said it... This [rock and roll] is a trend, just the same as he faced when he started years ago."
Presley was even seen as a "definite danger to the security of the United States." His actions and motions were called "a strip-tease with clothes on" or "sexual self-gratification on stage." They were compared with "masturbation or riding a microphone." Some saw the singer as a sexual pervert, and psychologists feared that teenaged girls and boys could easily be "aroused to sexual indulgence and perversion by certain types of motions and hysteria—the type that was exhibited at the Presley show." In August 1956, a Florida judge called Presley a "savage" and threatened to arrest him if he shook his body while performing in Jacksonville. The judge declared that Presley's music was undermining the youth of America. Throughout the performance (which was filmed by police), he kept still as ordered, except for wiggling a finger in mockery at the ruling.(Presley recalls this incident during the '68 Comeback Special.)
In 1957, despite Presley's demonstrable respect for "black" music and performers, he faced accusations of racism: he was alleged to have said in Boston, Massachusetts: "The only thing Negro people can do for me is to buy my records and shine my shoes." The singer always denied saying, or ever wanting to say, such a racist remark. Jet magazine, run by and for African Americans, was subsequently keen to investigate the story. Presley's acquaintances in Memphis were pursued for any other racist anecdotes, but none were found. Nor could any evidence be found of the date, location and persons involved when the alleged remark was made (Presley had never visited Boston). However, the Jet journalist did find plenty of testimony that Presley judged people "regardless of race, color or creed".
His parents moved home in Memphis, but the singer lived there briefly. With increased concerns over privacy and security, Graceland was bought in 1957, a mansion with several acres of land. This was Presley's primary residence until his death.
Presley's record sales grew quickly throughout the late 1950s, with hits like "All Shook Up", "(Let me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and "Too Much".
Military service and mother's death
Rank and Insignia Date of Rank
Private First-Class 1958-11-27
Specialist 4 1959-06-01
Staff Sergeant Upon honorable discharge
3rd Armored DivisionOn December 20, 1957, Presley received his draft notice. Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures had already spent $350,000 on the film King Creole, and did not want to suspend or cancel the project. The Memphis Draft Board granted Presley a deferment to finish it. On March 24, 1958, he was inducted as US Army private #53310761 and completed basic training at Fort Hood, Texas on September 17, 1958, before being posted to Friedberg, Germany with the 3rd Armored Division, where his service took place from October 1, 1958 until March 2, 1960.
Presley had chosen not to join 'Special Services', which would have allowed him to avoid certain duties and maintain his public profile. He continued to receive massive media coverage, with much speculation echoing Presley's own concerns about his enforced absence damaging his career. However, early in 1958, RCA Victor producer Steve Sholes and Freddy Bienstock of Hill and Range (Presley's main music publishers) had both pushed for recording sessions and strong song material, the aim being to release regular hit recordings during Presley's two-year hiatus. Hit singles—and six albums—duly followed during that period.
As Presley's fame grew, his mother continued to drink excessively and began to gain weight. She had wanted her son to succeed, "but... [the] hysteria of the crowd frightened her." In early August 1958, doctors had diagnosed hepatitis and her condition worsened. Presley was granted emergency leave to visit her, arriving in Memphis on August 12. Two days later, Gladys Presley died of heart failure, aged forty-six. Presley was distraught, "grieving almost constantly" for days.
Some months later, in Germany, "[a] sergeant had introduced [Presley] to amphetamines when they were on maneuvers at Grafenwöhr... it seemed like half the guys in the company were taking them." Friends around Presley, like Joe Esposito, also began taking them, "if only to keep up with Elvis, who was practically evangelical about their benefits." The army also introduced Presley to karate—something which he studied seriously, even including it in his later live performances.
In 2008, it was claimed that Presley had flown to London (1958) for a one-day trip: his only visit to the UK was thought to have been a stop-over at Prestwick Airport, Scotland in 1960. Tommy Steele, (Presley's alleged chaperone) said that he'd sworn not to divulge details of the visit. Friends of Presley, including Army buddy Lamar Fike, insist that the trip never took place.
Presley returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant on March 5. Recording sessions in March and April yielded some of his best-selling songs—including "It's Now or Never". Although some tracks were uptempo, none could be described as "rock and roll". Most found their way on to an album—Elvis is Back!—described by one critic as "a triumph on every level... It was as if Elvis had... broken down the barriers of genre and prejudice to express everything he heard in all the kinds of music he loved". The album was also notable because of Homer Boots Randolph's acclaimed saxophone solo during the blues standard "Reconsider Baby".
See also: Elvis Presley filmography
In 1956, Presley launched his career as a film actor. He screen-tested for Paramount Pictures by lip-synching "Blue Suede Shoes" and performing a scene as Bill Starbuck in The Rainmaker. Despite being quietly confident that The Rainmaker would be his first film—even going as far as saying so in an interview —the role eventually went to Burt Lancaster.
After signing a seven-year contract with Paramount, Presley made his big-screen début with the musical western, Love Me Tender. It was panned by the critics but did well at the box office. The original title—The Reno Brothers—was changed to capitalize on the advanced sales of the song "Love Me Tender". The majority of Presley's films were musical comedies made to "sell records and produce high revenues." He also appeared in more dramatic films, like Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. The erotic, if not homoerotic, dance sequence to the song "Jailhouse Rock", which Presley choreographed himself, "is considered by many as his greatest performance ever captured on film." To maintain box office success, he even "shifted into beefcake formula comedy mode for a few years." He also made one non-musical western, Charro!.
Presley stopped live performing after his Army service with the exception, ironically (given Sinatra's previously scathing criticism), of a guest appearance on The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis (1960). He also performed three charity concerts—two in Memphis and one in Pearl Harbor (1961).
In the Army, Presley had said on many occasions that "more than anything, he wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor." His manager, with an eye on long-term earnings, negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis. The singer would star alongside several famous, if not reputable, actors, including Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, Angela Lansbury, Charles Bronson, Barbara Stanwyck—and even a very young Kurt Russell in his screen debut. Although Presley was praised by directors, like Michael Curtiz, as polite and hardworking (and as having an exceptional memory), "he was definitely not the most talented actor around."
The Presley vehicles, and the AIP beach movies (which were mainly made for an early sixties teenage audience) were generally criticized as a "pantheon of bad taste." The scripts of his movies "were all the same, the songs progressively worse." Sight and Sound wrote that in his movies "Elvis Presley, aggressively bisexual in appeal, knowingly erotic, [was] acting like a crucified houri and singing with a kind of machine-made surrealism." Others noted that the songs seemed to be "written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll." For Blue Hawaii, "fourteen songs were cut in just three days." Julie Parrish, who appeared in Paradise, Hawaiian Style, says that Presley hated such songs and that he "couldn't stop laughing while he was recording" one of them. Critics would later claim that "No major star suffered through more bad movies than Elvis Presley."
Elvis in the film Viva Las Vegas (1964)Presley movies were nevertheless very popular, and he "became a film genre of his own." Hal Wallis would later remark: "An Elvis Presley picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood." Elvis on celluloid was the only chance to see him in the absence of live appearances, especially outside of the U.S. (the only time he toured outside of the U.S. was in Canada in 1957). His Blue Hawaii even "boosted the new state's tourism. Some of his most enduring and popular songs came from those [kind of] movies," like "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Return to Sender" and "Viva Las Vegas." His 1960s films and soundtracks grossed some $280 million. On December 1, 1968, the New York Times wrote: "Three times a year Elvis Presley ... [makes] multimillion-dollar feature-length films, with holiday titles like "Blue Hawaii", "Fun in Acapulco", "Viva Las Vegas", "Tickle Me", "Easy Come, Easy Go", "Live a Little, Love a Little" and the latest in the series, "Chataqua" [released as Charro!]. For each film Elvis receives a million dollars in wages and 50 per cent of the profits. ... [E]very film yields an LP sound-track record which may sell as many as two-million copies."
In 1964, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole had starred in Hal Wallis' acclaimed Becket. Wallis admitted to the press that the financing of such quality productions was only possible by making a series of profitable B-movies starring Presley. He branded Wallis "a double-dealing sonofabitch" (and he thought little better of Tom Parker), realizing there had never been any intention to let him develop into a serious actor.
Presley was similarly exploited the following year with the film Tickle Me. Allied Artists had serious financial problems and hoped a Presley film would help them "stay afloat". By agreeing to a lower fee, using previously recorded songs and filming on the studio back-lot, Allied Artists were able to keep costs very low. Considered one of the weakest of all Presley pictures, it became the third highest grossing picture in Allied Artists' history, and saved them from bankruptcy at the time.
Presley was one of the highest paid actors during the 1960s, but times were changing. "[The] Elvis Presley film was becoming passé. Young people were tuning in, dropping out and doing acid. Musical acts like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Doors, Janis Joplin and many others were dominating the airwaves. Elvis Presley was not considered cool as he once was." Priscilla Presley recalls: "He blamed his fading popularity on his humdrum movies" and "... loathed their stock plots and short shooting schedules." She also notes: "He could have demanded better, more substantial scripts, but he didn't."
Presley's final movie role was in Change of Habit (1969). His last two films were concert documentaries in the early 1970s, though Presley was keen to consider dramatic movie roles. (See: 'Influence of Colonel Parker and others').
As well as the formulaic movie songs of the 1960s, Presley did make noteworthy studio recordings, including "Suspicion," "(You're the) Devil in Disguise" and "It Hurts Me." In 1966 he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow is a Long Time" (which RCA Victor relegated to a bonus track on the soundtrack album for Spinout). He also produced two gospel albums: His Hand in Mine (1960) and How Great Thou Art (1966). In 1967, he recorded some well-received singles in collaboration with songwriter/guitar player Jerry Reed, including Reed's "Guitar Man." However, "during the Beatles era (1963-70), only six Elvis singles reached number ten or better. 'Suspicious Minds' was the lone number one."
Main article: Relationships of Elvis Presley
Presley's sexual attraction and photogenic looks have been acknowledged. Director Steve Binder, not a fan of Presley's music at the time, recalled from the '68 Comeback Special: "I'm straight as an arrow and I got to tell you, you stop, whether you're male or female, to look at him. He was that good looking. And if you never knew he was a superstar, it wouldn't make any difference; if he'd walked in the room, you'd know somebody special was in your presence."
According to Marjorie Garber, a "male rock critic writing in 1970 praised Elvis as 'The master of the sexual simile, treating his guitar as both phallus and girl.' ... rumor had it that into his skin-tight jeans was sewn a lead bar to suggest a weapon of heroic proportions." She cites a boyhood friend of Presley's who claims the singer actually used a cardboard toilet roll tube to make it "look to the girls up front like he had one helluva thing there inside his pants." Ed Sullivan had apparently heard similar rumors and instructed his director Marlo Lewis to film only Presley's chest and head for his final Sullivan appearance. However, Lewis was skeptical about Presley wearing such a device and says simply: "It wasn't there".
Accounts of Presley's numerous sexual conquests may be exaggerated Cybill Shepherd reveals that Presley kissed her all over her naked body - but refused to have oral sex with her. Girlfriends Judy Spreckels and June Juanico had no sexual relationships with Presley. Byron Raphael and Alanna Nash have stated that the star "would never put himself inside one of these girls..."Cassandra Peterson ("Elvira") says she knew Presley for only one night, but all they did was talk. Peggy Lipton claims that he was "virtually impotent" with her, but she attributed this to his boyishness and drug misuse. Guralnick concurs with others, "he wasn't really interested", preferring to lie in bed, watch television and talk.
Ann-Margret (Presley's co-star in Viva Las Vegas) refers to Presley as her "soulmate" but has revealed little else. A publicity campaign about Presley and Margret's romance was launched during the filming of Viva Las Vegas,which helped to increase Margret's popularity. Presley apparently dated many female co-stars for publicity purposes. Lori Williams dated him for a while in 1964. She says their "courtship was not some bizarre story. It was very sweet and Elvis was the perfect gentleman."
Main articles: Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley
Elvis and Priscilla met in the summer of 1959 at a party in Germany during his stay in the army. She was 14 at the time they met, while he was 24. They quickly began a serious relationship and frequently visited each other until he left Germany in 1960. In her autobiography, Elvis and Me, Priscilla says that Elvis refused to have sex with her until they were married. However, biographer Suzanne Finstad writes that Priscilla and Elvis slept together on their second date.Priscilla moved to Graceland in 1962 where she lived in a guest house with Elvis' father and stepmother, only officially moving in with him after she graduated high school. They married on May 1, 1967. According to Finstad, this marriage was part of a mastermind for fame hatched by Priscilla and her mother. Their only child, Lisa Marie Presley, was born on February 1, 1968.
Influence of Colonel Parker and others
Main articles: Colonel Tom Parker, Memphis Mafia
By 1967, Colonel Tom Parker had negotiated a contract that gave him 50% of Presley's earnings. Parker's gambling addictions—and his subsequent need to have Presley signed up to commercially lucrative contracts—may well have adversely affected the course of Presley's career. Parker's own concerns about his U.S. citizenship may have also been a factor (see: '1973-1976'). It has been claimed that Presley's original band was fired because Parker wanted no one else to offer him a better management deal.
As well as signing Presley to RCA Victor, Parker also cut a deal with Hill and Range Publishing Company to create a separate entity— "Elvis Presley Music Incorporated"—to handle all of Presley's songs and accrued royalties. Parker would later use this set-up to make songwriters relinquish some of their royalties; this ultimately resulted in the better writers refusing to provide songs for Presley, causing a marked decline in the quality of his output over the years. Presley apparently disliked several songs—even some of the earliest top sellers he became famous for (which suggests commercial influences were sometimes greater than his own desires). Jerry Schilling, one of a coterie of Presley's trusted friends, known as the "Memphis Mafia", relates that one way to really annoy the singer was to play a song, like "All Shook Up", on a jukebox at one of his private parties. "Get that crap off," was his typical reaction.
In 1969, record producer Chips Moman and Presley had agreed to record with Moman's own musicians at his American Sound studios in Memphis. Given the control exerted by RCA and the music publishers, this was a significant achievement. Moman still had to deal with Hill and Range staff on site and was not happy with their song choices. Moman could only get the best out of the singer when he threatened to quit the sessions and asked Presley to remove the "aggravating" publishing personnel from the studio. RCA Victor executive Joan Deary was later full of praise for the song choices and superior results of Moman's work, like "In the Ghetto" and "Suspicious Minds", but despite this, no producer was to override Hill and Range's control again.
According to life-long friend George Klein, over the years Presley was offered lead roles in the film Midnight Cowboy and in West Side Story. Robert Mitchum personally offered him the lead in Thunder Road. In 1974, Barbra Streisand approached Presley to star with her in the remake of A Star is Born. In each case, any ambitions the singer may have had to play such parts were thwarted by his manager's negotiating demands, or his flat refusals.
"Memphis Mafia" member Marty Lacker regarded Parker as a "hustler and scam artist" who abused Presley's trust, but Lacker acknowledged that Parker was a master promoter. Priscilla Presley noted that "Elvis detested the business side of his career. He would sign a contract without even reading it."
Presley's father distrusted the members of the "Memphis Mafia"; he thought they collectively exercised an unhealthy influence over his son. "[I]t was no wonder" that as the singer "slid into addiction and torpor, no one raised the alarm: to them, Elvis was the bank, and it had to remain open." Musician Tony Brown noted the urgent need to reverse Presley's declining health as the singer toured in the mid-1970s. "But we all knew it was hopeless because Elvis was surrounded by that little circle of people... all those so-called friends and... bodyguards."
Larry Geller became Presley's hairdresser in 1964. Unlike those in the "Memphis Mafia", Geller was interested in 'spiritual studies', and was subsequently viewed with suspicion and scorn by the singer's manager and friends. From their first conversation, Geller recalls how Presley revealed his secret thoughts and anxieties, how "there's got to be a reason... why I was chosen to be Elvis Presley.'" He then poured out his heart in "an almost painful rush of words and emotions," telling Geller about his mother and the hollowness of his Hollywood life, things he could not share with anyone around him. Thereafter, Presley voraciously read books Geller supplied, on religion and mysticism. Perhaps most tellingly, he revealed to Geller: "I swear to God, no one knows how lonely I get and how empty I really feel." Presley would be preoccupied by such matters for much of his life, taking trunkloads of books with him on tour.
Presley showed interest in many beliefs, including Mormonism. A Book of Mormon owned by Presley (containing notes allegedly written by the singer) was given to Alan Osmond after his death, and is now said to be in the church's archives in Salt Lake City (A second copy may have been given to Presley by Mormon Ed Parker, a karate instructor). However, Linda Thompson, Presley's girlfriend after his separation, notes: "[H]e really followed the bible and he also was on a spiritual quest to find out how other people of other faiths lived their lives... he used to wear an Egyptian ankh, a star of David and a crucifix around his neck. And when people would say are you confused, he would say, no, not at all. I just don't want to miss heaven on a technicality."
Main article: Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special
Elvis Presley in his '68 Comeback Special, airing on NBC, December 3, 1968Presley entered 1968 as barely a blip on the radar screen of a generation. He was still issuing movie soundtrack albums but garnering nowhere near the sales figures of a smash hit like Blue Hawaii. It had been nearly six years since "Good Luck Charm" had topped the Billboard Hot 100. His most recent single, Jerry Reed's hook-laden "Guitar Man," had failed to enter the Top 40.
By mid-1968, Presley had become deeply unhappy with his career. Realising the importance of television, Colonel Parker arranged for Presley to make his own special. Elvis hadn't been on TV since Frank Sinatra's Timex special for ABC welcomed him back from the service in May 1960. Parker shrewdly manoeuvred a deal from NBC-TV's Tom Sarnoff, which included the network's commitment to financing for a feature film, which was becoming increasingly harder to secure.
In June, Presley made a Christmas telecast on NBC simply called Elvis. Later dubbed the '68 Comeback Special by fans and critics, the show aired on December 3, 1968, and featured some lavishly staged studio productions. Other songs however, were performed live with a band in front of small audience—Presley's first live appearance as a performer since 1961. The live segments saw Presley clad in black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style—reminiscent of his rock and roll days. Rolling Stone called it "a performance of emotional grandeur and historical resonance." Its success was helped by director and co-producer, Steve Binder, who worked hard to reassure the nervous singern and to produce a show that was not just an hour of Christmas songs, as Colonel Parker had originally planned.
In November, RCA shipped the single version of "If I Can Dream." By the end of the month it was Top 40, eventually reaching number 12 in January 1969. The soundtrack album broke into the Top 10. On December 4, when the ratings were released, NBC reported that Elvis captured 42 percent of the total viewing audience. It was the network's biggest ratings victory for the entire year and the season's number-one rated show.
Jerry Schilling recalled, "The '68 special inspired Elvis; reminding him what he had not been able to do for years, being able to choose the people; being able to choose what songs and not being told what had to be on the soundtrack. What he had to wear. He was out of prison, man." Steve Binder would also later recall Presley's reaction—"I played Elvis the 60-minute show, and he told me in the screening room, "Steve, it's the greatest thing I've ever done in my life. I give you my word I will never sing a song I don't believe in."
Buoyed by the experience, Presley engaged in the prolific series of recording sessions at American Studios, which lead to the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis (Chips Moman was its uncredited producer). It was followed by From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis, a double-album.
The same sessions lead to the hit singles "In the Ghetto", "Suspicious Minds", "Kentucky Rain" and "Don't Cry Daddy".
In 1969, Presley was keen to resume regular live performing and made record-breaking appearances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. At a press conference after his opening show, when a reporter referred to him as "The King", Presley pointed to Fats Domino, standing at the back of the room. "No," he said, "that’s the real king of rock and roll."
Elvis meets U.S. President Richard Nixon in the White House Oval Office, December 21, 1970In January 1970, Presley returned to the International Hotel for a month-long engagement, performing two shows a night. RCA recorded some shows and the best material appeared on the album On Stage - February 1970. In late February, Presley performed six more attendance-breaking shows at the Houston Astrodome in Texas. In August at the International Hotel, MGM filmed rehearsal and concert footage for a documentary: Elvis - That's The Way It Is. He wore a jumpsuit—a garment that would become a trademark of Presley's live performances in the 70's. Although he had new hit singles in many countries, some were critical of his song choices and accused him of being distant from trends within contemporary music.
Around this time Presley was threatened with kidnapping at the International Hotel. Phone calls were received, one demanding $50,000; if unpaid, Presley would be killed by a "crazy man". The FBI took the threat seriously and security was stepped up for the next two shows. Presley went on stage with a Derringer in his right boot and a .45 in his waistband, but nothing untoward transpired. (The singer had had many threats of varying degrees since the fifties, many of them made without the singer's knowledge).
After closing his Las Vegas engagement on September 7, Presley embarked on his first concert tour since 1958. Feeling exhausted, Presley spent a month relaxing and recording before touring again in October and November. He would tour extensively in the U.S. up to his death; many of the 1,145 concerts setting attendance records.
On December 21, 1970, Presley met with President Richard Nixon at the White House (Presley arrived with a gift—a handgun. It was accepted but not presented for security reasons). Presley had engineered the encounter to express his patriotism, his contempt for the hippie drug culture and his wish to be appointed a "Federal Agent at Large". He also wished to obtain a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge to add to similar items he had begun collecting. He offered to "infiltrate hippie groups" and claimed that The Beatles had "made their money, then gone back to England where they fomented anti-American feeling." Nixon was uncertain and bemused by their encounter, and twice expressed concern that Presley needed to "retain his credibility".
January 1971 saw Presley return to Las Vegas. On January 16 Presley was named 'One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation' by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Jaycees). That summer, the City of Memphis named part of Highway 51 South "Elvis Presley Boulevard", and he won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the organization that presents Grammy awards).
In April 1972 MGM again filmed Presley, this time for Elvis on Tour, which won a 1972 Golden Globe for Best Documentary. A fourteen-date tour started with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, New York. RCA taped the shows for a live album. In July, plans were made for another TV special, to be broadcast from Hawaii. After the tour, Presley released the 1972 single "Burning Love"—his last top ten hit in the U.S. charts.
Divorce from Priscilla
Off stage, Presley had continuing problems. His lifelong friend, Joe Esposito, said Elvis "could never be true to any one woman." It was widely known that Presley had several affairs during his 13-year union with Priscilla, notably with Anita Wood and Ann-Margret. In spite of his own infidelity, Presley was furious that Priscilla was having an affair with a mutual acquaintance—Mike Stone, a karate instructor. He raged obsessively: "There's too much pain in me... Stone [must] die." A bodyguard, Red West, felt compelled to get a price for a contract killing and was relieved when Presley decided: "Aw hell... Maybe it's a bit heavy..." The Presleys separated on February 23, 1972 and divorced on October 9, 1973, agreeing to share custody of their daughter.
After his separation from Priscilla, he lived with Linda Thompson, a songwriter and one-time Memphis beauty queen, from July 1972 until just a few months before his death.
Aloha From Hawaii
Elvis Presley, in Aloha From Hawaii television broadcast via satellite on January 14, 1973In January 1973, Presley performed two charity concerts in Hawaii for the Kui Lee cancer foundation. The first (January 12) was primarily a practice run for the main show which was broadcast live on January 14 (The first show also served as a backup if technical problems affected the live broadcast). The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert was the world's first live concert satellite broadcast, reaching at least a billion viewers live and a further 500 million on delay. The show's album went to number one and spent a year in the charts. The album also proved to be Presley's last U.S. Number One album during his lifetime.
After his divorce in 1973, Presley became increasingly isolated and overweight, with prescription drugs affecting his health, mood and his stage act. He overdosed twice on barbiturates, spending three days in a coma in his hotel suite after the first. According to Dr. George C. Nichopoulos, Presley's physician, the singer was "near death" in November of 1973 because of side effects of Demerol addiction. Nichopoulos notes that the hospital admission "was crazy", with lab technicians exploiting Presley's ill-health by selling samples of his blood and urine.
In his book, Elvis: The Final Years, Jerry Hopkins writes: "Elvis' health plummeted as his weight ballooned." At a University of Maryland concert on September 27th (1974), band members "had trouble recognizing him. ... 'He walked on stage and held onto the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody was scared.' Guitarist John Wilkinson ... recalled, ... 'He was all gut. He was slurring. ... It was obvious he was drugged, that there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad, the words to the songs were barely intelligible. ... We were in a state of shock.' "
Despite this, his "thundering" live version of "How Great Thou Art" won him a Grammy award in 1974 Presley won three competitive "Grammies" for his gospel recordings: "How Great Thou Art"—the album, as well as the single—and for the album He Touched Me (1972) (He had fourteen nominations during his career, though it has been claimed that "Elvis has never been adequately appreciated by those who give the Grammies.")
In April 1974, rumours began that he would be playing overseas. An offer of a $1,000,000 was received from a source in Australia for him to tour there, but Colonel Parker was uncharacteristically reluctant to take advantage of such potentially lucrative deals. This prompted those closest to Presley to speculate about Parker—including his apparent unwillingness to apply for a passport to travel abroad. He scotched the notion by citing poor security in other countries, and the lack of suitable venues for a star of his status. Presley apparently accepted such excuses, at the time.
Presley continued to play to sell-out crowds in the U.S.; a 1975 tour ended with a concert in Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans. However the singer now had "no motivation to lose his extra poundage... he became self-conscious... his self-confidence before the audience declined... Headlines such as 'Elvis Battles Middle Age' and 'Time Makes Listless Machine of Elvis' were not uncommon." According to Marjorie Garber, when Presley made his later appearances in Las Vegas, he appeared "heavier, in pancake make-up... with an elaborate jewelled belt and cape, crooning pop songs to a microphone ... [He] had become Liberace. Even his fans were now middle-aged matrons and blue-haired grandmothers, ... Mother's Day became a special holiday for Elvis' fans."
On July 13, 1976, Presley's father fired "Memphis Mafia" bodyguards Red West, Sonny West and David Hebler. All three were taken by surprise, especially the Wests, who had been with Presley since the beginning of his career.Presley was away in Palm Springs when it happened, and some suggest the singer was too cowardly to face them himself. Vernon Presley cited the need to "cut back on expenses" when dismissing the three, but David Stanley has claimed that the real reason was that the bodyguards were becoming more outspoken over Presley's drug dependency. A "trusted associate" of Presley, John O'Grady, also stated, in agreement with Parker and Vernon Presley, that the bodyguards "were too rough with the fans... resulting in a lot of unnecessary lawsuits" and lawyers' fees. The Wests and Hebler would later write a devastating indictment of Presley in the book: Elvis: What Happened?, published August 1, 1977. (See: 'Final year and death').
Almost throughout the 1970s, RCA Victor had been increasingly concerned about making money from Presley material: they often had to rely on live recordings because of problems getting him to attend studio sessions. RCA Victor's mobile studio was occasionally sent to Graceland in the hope of capturing an inspired vocal performance. Once in a studio, he could lack interest or be easily distracted; often this was linked to his health and drug problems.
Final year and death
In 2006, a journalist recalled: "Elvis Presley had [in 1977] become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self... he was barely able to pull himself through his abbreviated concerts." In Alexandria, Louisiana, the singer was on stage for less than an hour and "was impossible to understand."In Baton Rouge, Presley failed to appear: he was unable to get out of his hotel bed, and the rest of the tour was cancelled. In Knoxville, Tennessee on May 20, "there was no longer any pretense of keeping up appearances. The idea was simply to get Elvis out on stage and keep him upright..." Despite his obvious problems, shows in Omaha, Nebraska and Rapid City, South Dakota were recorded for an album and a CBS-TV special: Elvis In Concert.
In Rapid City, "he was so nervous on stage that he could hardly talk... He was undoubtedly painfully aware of how he looked, and he knew that in his condition, he could not perform any significant movement." His performance in Omaha "exceeded everyone's worst fears... [giving] the impression of a man crying out for help..." According to Guralnick, fans "were becoming increasingly voluble about their disappointment, but it all seemed to go right past Elvis, whose world was now confined almost entirely to his room and his [spiritualism] books." A cousin, Billy Smith, recalled how Presley would sit in his room and chat, recounting things like his favourite Monty Python sketches and past japes, but "mostly there was a grim obsessiveness... a paranoia about people, germs... future events", that reminded Smith of Howard Hughes.
Elvis Presley's final resting place at GracelandThe book Elvis: What Happened? was published just fifteen days before Presley's death. It was the first exposé to detail Presley's years of drug misuse, and was apparently the authors' revenge for them being sacked and also a plea to get Presley to recognize the extent of his drug problems.The singer "was devastated by the book. Here were his close friends who had written serious stuff that would affect his life. He felt betrayed."
Presley's final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena, on June 26, 1977.
Another tour was scheduled to begin August 17, 1977, but at Graceland the day before, Presley was found on the floor by fiancée, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Presley had "stumbled or crawled several feet before he died"; he had apparently been using the toilet at the time. Death was officially pronounced at 3:30 pm at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.
At his funeral, hundreds of thousands of fans, the press and celebrities lined the streets and many hoped to see the open casket in Graceland. One of Presley's cousins accepted $18,000 to secretly photograph the corpse; the picture duly appeared on the cover of the National Enquirer, making it the largest and fastest selling issue of all time. Among the mourners were Ann-Margret (who had remained close to Presley) and his ex-wife.z U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued a statement (See 'Legacy').
Presley was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, Memphis, next to his mother. After an attempt to steal the body, his—and his mother's—remains were reburied at Graceland in the Meditation Gardens.
Presley had developed many health problems, some of them chronic. He started taking drugs (amphetamines) regularly in the army, though it has also been claimed that pills of some form were first given to him by Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips. Priscilla Presley writes that by 1962, he was taking placidyls to combat severe insomnia in ever-increasing doses and later took Dexedrine to counter the sleeping pills' after-effects. She later saw "problems in Elvis' life, all magnified by taking prescribed drugs." Presley's physician, Dr. Nichopoulos, has said: "[Elvis] felt that by getting [pills] from a doctor, he wasn't the common everyday junkie getting something off the street. He... thought that as far as medications and drugs went, there was something for everything."
According to Guralnick: "[D]rug use was heavily implicated... no one ruled out the possibility of anaphylactic shock brought on by the codeine pills...to which he was known to have had a mild allergy." In two lab reports filed two months later, each indicated "a strong belief that the primary cause of death was polypharmacy," with one report "indicating the detection of fourteen drugs in Elvis' system, ten in significant quantity." It appears he died of Combined Drug Intoxication.
The medical profession has been seriously questioned. Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco had publicly offered a cause of death while the autopsy was still being performed and before toxicology results were known. Dr. Francisco dubiously stated that cardiac arrhythmia was the cause of death, a condition that can only be determined in a living person—not post mortem. Many doctors had been flattered to be associated with Presley (or had been bribed with gifts) and supplied him with pills which simply fed his addictions. The singer allegedly spent at least $1 million annually during his latter years on drugs and doctors' fees or inducements. Although Dr. Nichopoulos was exonerated with regard to Presley's death, "In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had [prescribed] more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics: all in Elvis' name. On January 20, 1980, the board found [against] him... but decided that he was not unethical [because he claimed he'd been trying to wean the singer off the drugs]." His license was suspended. In July 1995, it was permanently revoked after it was found he had improperly dispensed drugs to several patients.
In 1994, the autopsy into Presley's death was re-opened. Coroner Dr. Joseph Davis declared: "There is nothing in any of the data that supports a death from drugs [i.e. drug overdose]. In fact, everything points to a sudden, violent heart attack." However, there is little doubt that long-term drug abuse caused his premature death.
Further information: Cultural depictions of Elvis Presley; Cultural impact of Elvis Presley; Elvis Presley phenomenon
Elvis Presley's death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. More than 20 years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense, and he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country.
– President Jimmy Carter, 1977-08-17,
Author Samuel Roy has argued: "Elvis' death did occur at a time when it could only help his reputation. Just before his death, Elvis had been forgotten by society."
Biographer Ernst Jorgensen has observed that when Presley died, it was as if all perspective on his musical career had been lost. His latter-day song choices had been seen as poor; many who disliked Presley had long been dismissive because he did not write his own songs. Others complained—incorrectly—that he could not play musical instruments. Such criticism of Presley continues.i The tabloids had ridiculed his obesity and his kitschy, jump-suited performances. Comedian George Carlin made the teasing remark, "America got what it deserved in Elvis Presley: a big fat, drug-addicted squealer." Sade Adu said about Presley: "when I see him in his fifties movies, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, that's an image I desire to look like. But when he's in his jumpsuit I just think of him as a drag queen." His sixties' film career was mocked. (In 1980, John Lennon said: "[Presley] died when he went into the army. That's when they killed him, that's when they castrated him.") Acknowledgment of his vocal style had been reduced to mocking the hiccuping, vocalese tricks that he had used on some early recordings—and to the way he said "Thankyouverymuch" after songs during live shows. This was only countered by the uncritical adulation of die-hard fans, who had even denied that he looked "fat" before he died.j Any wish to understand Elvis Presley—his genuine abilities and his real influence—"seemed almost totally obscured."
Presley has featured prominently in a variety of polls and surveys designed to measure popularity and influence.k However, sociologist Philip Ennis writes: "Perhaps it is an error of enthusiasm to freight Elvis Presley with too heavy a historical load" because, according to a opinion poll of high school students in 1957, Pat Boone was nearly the "two-to-one favorite over Elvis Presley among boys and preferred almost three-to-one by girls..." However, Presley's early music and live performances are credited with helping to lay a commercial foundation which allowed established African American acts of the 1950s to receive due recognition. Performers like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, came to national prominence after Presley's mix of musical styles was accepted among White American teenagers.ac Rather than Presley being seen as a white man who 'stole black music', Little Richard argued: "He was an integrator, Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let black music through. He opened the door for black music." Al Green agreed, saying; "He broke the ice for all of us." It has also been claimed that Presley's sound and persona helped to relax the rigid color line and thereby fed the fires of the civil rights movement.
In the late 1960s, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein remarked: "Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it's a whole new social revolution... the 60's comes from it."
Other celebrated pop and rock musicians have acknowledged that the young Presley inspired them. The Beatles were all big Presley fans. John Lennon said: "Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been a Beatles." Deep Purple's Ian Gillan said: "For a young singer he was an absolute inspiration. I soaked up what he did like blotting paper... you learn by copying the maestro." Rod Stewart declared: "Elvis was the King. No doubt about it. People like myself, Mick Jagger and all the others only followed in his footsteps." Cher recalls from seeing Presley live in 1956 that he made her "realize the tremendous effect a performer could have on an audience." Bob Dylan said: "When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody; and nobody was going to be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail."
By 1958, singers obviously adopting Presley's style, like Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard (the so-called "British Elvis"), were rising to prominence in the UK. Elsewhere, France's Johnny Hallyday and the Italians Adriano Celentano and Bobby Solo were also heavily influenced by Presley.
Presley's recorded voice is seen by many as his enduring legacy. Music critic Henry Pleasants writes: "Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass... and a very wide range of vocal color have something to do with this divergence of opinion. The voice covers two octaves and a thirdad... Moreover, he has not been confined to one type of vocal production. In ballads and country songs he belts out full-voiced high G's and A's that an opera baritone might envy. He is a naturally assimilative stylist with a multiplicity of voices—in fact, Elvis' is an extraordinary voice, or many voices." It has also been noted that "Presley’s comprehensive musical knowledge and talent also surprised and impressed songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller... [They] considered Presley to be an 'idiot savant' because he knew so many songs. His knowledge of the blues especially impressed them. Leiber remembers that Presley "could imitate anything he heard. He had a perfect ear,"... Presley could sing and/or play a song on the piano after hearing it only once or twice. His natural ear for music, ability to play by ear, and to improvise were well known to his friends and musical associates."
Gospel tenor Shawn Nielsen, who sang backing vocals for Presley on tour, said: "He could sing anything. I've never seen such versatility... He had such great soul. He had the ability to make everyone in the audience think that he was singing directly to them. He just had a way with communication that was totally unique."
Presley's informal jamming in front of a small audience in the '68 Comeback Special is regarded as a forerunner of the so-called 'Unplugged' concept, later popularized by MTV.
The singer has been inducted into four music 'Halls of Fame': the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1997), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1998), and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001). In 1984, he received the W. C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation and the Academy of Country Music’s first Golden Hat Award. In 1987, he received the American Music Awards’ first posthumous presentation of the Award of Merit.
Presley has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard. He was also honored by the Mississippi Blues Commission with a Mississippi Blues Trail historic marker placed in Tupelo, his birth place, in recognition of his contribution to the development of the blues in Mississippi.
In 1994, the 40th anniversary of Presley's "That's All Right" was recognized with its re-release, which made the charts worldwide, making top three in the UK.
During the 2002 World Cup a Junkie XL remix of his "A Little Less Conversation" (credited as "Elvis Vs JXL") topped the charts in over twenty countries and was included in a compilation of Presley's U.S. and UK number one hits, Elv1s: 30.
In the UK charts (January 2005), three re-issued singles again went to number one ("Jailhouse Rock", "One Night"/"I Got Stung" and "It's Now or Never"). Throughout the year, twenty singles were re-issued—all making top five.
In the same year, Forbes magazine named Presley, for the fifth straight year, the top-earning deceased celebrity, grossing US$45 million for the Presley estate during the preceding year. In mid-2006, top place was taken by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain after the sale of his song catalogue, but Presley reclaimed the top spot in 2007.
Paul F. Campos has written: "The Elvis cult touches on so many crucial nerves of American popular culture: the ascent of a workingclass boy from the most obscure backwater to international fame and fortune; the white man with the soul of black music in his voice; the performer whose music tied together the main strands of American folk music – country, rhythm and blues, and gospel; and, perhaps most compellingly for a weight-obsessed nation, the sexiest man in America's gradual transformation into a fat, sweating parody of his former self, straining the bounds of a jewel-encrusted bodysuit on a Las Vegas stage. The images of fat Elvis and thin Elvis live together in the popular imagination." The singer continues to be imitated—and parodied—outside the main music industry and Presley songs remain very popular on the karaoke circuit. People from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds work as Elvis impersonators ("the raw 1950s Elvis and the kitschy 1970s Elvis are the favorites.")
In 2002, it was observed:
For those too young to have experienced Elvis Presley in his prime, today’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of his death must seem peculiar. All the talentless impersonators and appalling black velvet paintings on display can make him seem little more than a perverse and distant memory. But before Elvis was camp, he was its opposite: a genuine cultural force... Elvis’s breakthroughs are underappreciated because in this rock-and-roll age, his hard-rocking music and sultry style have triumphed so completely.
– The New York Times
For a detailed discography, see Elvis Presley discography.
For a list of all of his songs, see List of Elvis Presley songs.
For a list of Presley's singles, see Elvis Presley hit singles.
List of best-selling music artists
List of artists by total number of USA number one singles
List of artists by total number of UK number one singles
Honorific titles in popular music
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