Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Admired as one of the most successful recording artists of all time, American singer and guitarist Elvis Presley exploded onto the music scene in the mid-1950s. With a sound rooted in rockabilly and rhythm-and-blues, a daringly sexual performing style, and a magnetic charm, the pioneer rock ‘n’ roller became an idol for an entire generation of music enthusiasts. Adoring fans remember him as The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll, The King, and Elvis the Pelvis, and he is widely credited with introducing a new era in popular culture. Writing for Newsweek, Jim Miller reported that Presley himself has become “a complex figure of American myth: as improbably successful as a Horatio Alger hero, as endearing as Mickey Mouse, as tragically self-destructive as Marilyn Monroe.”
Indeed, neither critics nor biographers can find much in the Mississippi-born star’s background to presage his rise to fame. The boy spent his earliest years in his hometown of Tupelo, where he and his family shared a two-room house, and as a teen he lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where his family relocated when he was in the eighth grade. Shortly after finishing high school in 1953, the unknown artist began driving a delivery truck for the Crown Electric Company. He fooled around with the guitar in his free time.
The year he graduated, however, the young hopeful also made an amateur recording at the Memphis Recording Studio. He followed it with a second in 1954 and captured the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun Records. As a result, Presley created the now-legendary Sun recordings, hailed by many as among his finest. With a musical career in the offing, the future star quit his truck-driving job in 1954 and began performing professionally, mostly in rural areas where he was billed as The Hillbilly Cat. He also saw his first Sun recording, “That’s All Right Mama,” rise to number three on the Memphis country-and-western charts. Thus, despite some disappointments, including discouraging words from the Grand Ole Opry and rejection by New York City’s Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, Presley persisted. By the end of 1955, after making a six-state Southern tour with Hank Snow’s Jamboree that piqued considerable interest, the up-and-comer had negotiated the agreement with RCA that would bring him stardom.
Presley’s very first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel” (co-written by Presley, Tommy Durden, and Mae Boren Axton, mother of country star Hoyt Axton), was wildly succesful and became his first Gold Record. “From the opening notes of the song,” opined Miller in another Newsweek review, “the air is electric.” The air remained electric as the singer scored hit after hit with such tunes as “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Love Me Tender.” His sound, which evolved from his roots in the deep South and combined elements of
Full name, Elvis Aaron (some sources say Aron) Presley; born January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Miss.; died of heart failure, August 16, 1977, in Memphis, Tenn.; buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, Memphis, Tenn., August 18, 1977; body moved to private graveyard at Graceland, Memphis, October, 1977; son of Vernon Elvis and Gladys Love (Smith) Presley; married Priscilla Ann Beaulieu (an actress), May 1, 1967 (divorced, 1973); children: Lisa Marie. Education: Graduated from Humes High School, Memphis, 1953.
Worked as an usher in a movie theater while in high school; employed by the Precision Tool Plant, Memphis, for three months following graduation from high school; worked for Crown Electric Company, Memphis, in the stockroom and as a delivery truck driver, 1953-54.
Recording artist and musical performer, 1953-77. Made first amateur recording, 1953; signed to Sun Records, 1954, made first professional recordings; made first professional appearance, July, 1954; performed in the rural South with back-up musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black, 1954; acquired manager Bob Neal, 1955; made six-state Southern tour with Hank Snow’s Jamboree, 1955; signed recording contract with RCA, 1955; released first record for RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel,” 1956; signed Colonel Tom Parker as manager, 1956; made first television appearance on CBS-TV’s “The Jackie Gleason Stage Show Starring Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey,” January 25, 1956; made first Las Vegas appearance, April 23, 1956; appeared in “Love Me Tender,” the first of more than 30 feature films, 1956; served in U.S. Army, 1958-60; became sergeant; continued recording and film careers during 1960s with some personal and benefit appearances, but no road tours; limited road touring during 1970s, concentrated on Las Vegas and nightclubs.
Awards: Winner of numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards; earned Billboard magazine’s “Vocal Single of the Year Award,” 1961, for “It’s Now or Never”; named Las Vegas entertainer of the year, 1969; honored by RCA for highest record sales in the company’s history (275 million), 1970; Elvis Presley Boulevard named for him by city of Memphis, Tenn., 1971; received Bing Crosby Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1971; posthumously named “Male Musical Star of the Year,” 1977, by the Academy of Variety and Cabaret Artists.
country-and-western, rhythm-and-blues, and gospel, was new, and it was instantly popular. Though not the inventor of rock and roll, Presley, reflected John Rockwell in the New York Times, “defined the style and gave it an indelible image.”
Voice alone did not comprise the star’s appeal. He was also a remarkable showman. Advised by Colonel Tom Parker, whom he signed as his manager early in 1956, Presley began making films, appearing on television, and otherwise keeping himself in the public eye. Though reportedly shy and disinclined to be interviewed, the upstart musician gave performances that drove audiences mad. His captivating smile, coupled with the pelvic “bump-and-grind” rhythm that earned him the appellation Elvis the Pelvis, projected an exciting sexuality that was unprecedented in the music world. He prompted moral outrage from the older generation and hero worship from the younger to become, in Rockwell’s words, an entertainer “parents abhorred, young women adored and young men instantly imitated.”
Presley was already a legend by the time he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958, and during his two-year hitch, most of it spent in West Germany, his recordings continued to sell well. But by the time he returned from his tour of duty, the music climate in the United States had changed. There was a notable downturn in his career, and The King of Rock and Roll devoted most of the 1960s to making movies that were entertaining but undistinguished. In 1968 the rocker staged a successful, if short-lived, comeback, and during the seventies he concentrated on playing nightclubs.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. on August 16, 1977, Presley’s body was found in the bathroom at Graceland, his Memphis, Tennessee, home. Although the medical examiner reported that Presley died of heart failure, rumors of the star’s amphetamine use flourished. For a number of years prior to his death, in fact, Presley looked as if he had passed his prime. Apparently, though neither a drinker nor a smoker, The King was known as a junk-food addict (reputed to favor fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches) and had gained considerable weight. He also had a history of mild hypertension. As Miller summed it up, Presley, formerly “an icon of glowing youth … died tallow-faced and tubby, the victim of too many Dreamsicles and Nutty Buddies, too much Dexedrine, Dilaudid, Demerol, Quaalude, [and] Percodan.”
Despite the circumstances, The King continued to grow in stature after his death. Indeed, in a piece for the Saturday Evening Post, Jay Stuller even suggested that death “lent [him] a tragic aura.” Whatever the reasons, grief-stricken fans remained fiercely devoted and scrambled to preserve their idol’s memory. In the process, they spawned an entire industry. More than ten years later, memorabilia abounds and hundreds of new products pay tribute to the Presley legend—everything from slippers and shampoo to porcelain dolls and grandfather clocks. There are some two hundred-odd active Elvis fan clubs, the city of Memphis hosts an annual Elvis Week, and at one time a bill was put before the U.S. Congress that advocated making the recording giant’s birthday a national holiday.
The King’s achievement has yet to be duplicated. He racked up more than one hundred Top Forty hits as well as more than forty Gold Records, and sales of his recordings exceed one billion copies. He also influenced an entire generation of rock musicians, including Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen. Trying to unravel the mystique, Stuller quoted Graceland Enterprises marketing director, Ken Brixey: “I guess the best answer is that he was a blue-collar worker who in spirit never tried to rise above his roots. He’s the epitome of a man who started out with nothing, became something and never lost his attraction to the masses. He’s a true folk hero.”
Composer and co-composer of songs, including “All Shook Up,” “Don’t Be Cruel (To a Heart That’s True),” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “Love Me Tender.”
45 & 78 RPM Recordings; Released by Sun
That’s All Right Mama, 1954.
Blue Moon of Kentucky, 1954.
Good Rockin’ Tonight, 1954.
You’re a Heartbreaker, 1954.
Baby, Let’s Play House, 1955.
I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone, 1955.
Mystery Train, 1955.
I Forgot to Remember to Forget, 1955.
Major hit singles; Released by RCA
“Heartbreak Hotel,” February, 1956.
“Blue Suede Shoes,” March, 1956.
“I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” May, 1956.
“Hound Dog,” July, 1956.
“Don’t Be Cruel,” July, 1956.
“Love Me Tender,” October, 1956.
“All Shook Up,” March, 1957.
“Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear,” June, 1957.
“Jailhouse Rock,” October, 1957.
“Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” April, 1958.
“Hard Headed Woman,” June, 1958.
“Stuck On You,” April, 1960.
“It’s Now or Never,” July, 1960.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” November, 1960.
“Surrender,” February, 1961.
“Can’t Help Falling In Love,” December, 1961.
“Return To Sender,” October, 1962.
“(You’re the) Devil In Disguise,” June, 1963.
“Crying In the Chapel,” April, 1965.
“In the Ghetto,” May, 1969.
“Suspicious Minds,” September, 1969.
“Burning Love,” August, 1972.
LP Albums; Released by RCA
Elvis Presley, 1956.
Loving You, 1957.
Elvis’s Christmas Album, 1957.
Elvis’s Golden Record, 1958.
King Creole, 1958.
For LP Fans Only, 1959.
A Date With Elvis, 1959.
50, 000, 000 Fans Can’t Be Wrong, 1959.
Elvis Is Back, 1960.
G.I. Blues, 1960.
His Hand in Mine, 1960.
Something for Everybody, 1961.
Blue Hawaii, 1961.
Pot Luck, 1962.
Girls, Girls, Girls, 1962.
It Happened at the World’s Fair, 1963.
Fun in Acapulco, 1963.
Kissin’ Cousins, 1964.
Girl Happy, 1965.
Elvis for Everyone, 1965.
Harum Scarum, 1965.
Frankie and Johnnie, 1966.
Paradise Hawaiian Style, 1966.
How Great Thou Art, 1967.
Special Palm Sunday Programming, 1967.
Double Trouble, 1967.
Elvis’s Gold Records, Volume 4, 1968.
Elvis Sings Flaming Star and Others, 1968.
Elvis: TV Special, 1968.
From Elvis in Memphis, 1969.
From Elvis to Vegas/Vegas to Memphis, 1969.
On Stage, February 1970, 1970.
Worldwide Fifty Gold Award Hits, 1970.
Elvis in Person at the International Hotel, 1970.
Elvis: Back in Memphis, 1970.
Elvis: That’s the Way it Is, 1970.
Elvis Country, 1971.
Love Letters From Elvis, 1971.
Worldwide Fifty Gold Award Hits, Volume 2: Elvis The Other
Sides, 1971. Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas, 1971.
Elvis Now, 1972.
He Touched Me, 1972.
Elvis Recorded Live at Madison Square Garden, 1972.
Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, 1973.
Raised on Rock, 1973.
Elvis, Volume 1: A Legendary Performer, 1974.
Elvis Forever, 1974.
Good Times, 1974.
Elvis Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis, 1974.
Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, 1974.
Promised Land, 1975.
Pure Gold, 1975.
Elvis Today, 1975.
Elvis, Volume 2: A Legendary Performer, 1976.
The Sun Sessions, 1976.
From Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee, 1976.
Elvis in Hollywood, 1976.
Welcome to My World, 1977.
Moody Blue, 1977.
RCA Victor also released more than thirty Elvis EPs between 1956 and 1973.
Albums; Released by Camden
Let’s Be Friends, 1970.
Almost in Love, 1970.
Elvis’s Christmas Album, 1970.
You’ll Never Walk Alone, 1971.
C’ mon Everybody, 1971.
I Got Lucky, 1971.
Elvis Sings Hits From His Movies, Volume 1, 1972.
Burning Love and Hits From His Movies, Volume 2, 1972.
Separate Ways, 1973.
Almost in Love, 1973.
Double Dynamite, 1975.
Frankie & Johnny, 1976.
Posthumously released albums
RCA has issued numerous Elvis recordings since his death, including the six-record set Elvis Presley: A Golden Celebration, commemorating what would have been his fiftieth birthday.
“Love Me Tender,” Twentieth Century Fox, 1956.
“Loving You,” Paramount, 1957.
“Jailhouse Rock,” MGM, 1957.
“King Creole,” Paramount, 1958.
“G.I. Blues,” Paramount, 1960.
“Flaming Star,” Paramount, 1960.
“Wild in the Country,” Twentieth Century Fox, 1961.
“Blue Hawaii,” Paramount, 1961.
“Follow That Dream,” United Artists, 1962.
“Kid Galahad,” United Artists, 1962.
“Girls, Girls, Girls,” Paramount, 1962.
“It Happened at the World’s Fair,” MGM, 1963.
“Fun in Acapulco,” Paramount, 1963.
“Kissin’ Cousins,” MGM, 1964.
“Viva Las Vegas,” MGM, 1964.
“Roustabout,” Paramount, 1964.
“Girl Happy,” MGM, 1965.
“Tickle Me,” Allied Artists, 1965.
“Harum Scarum,” MGM, 1965.
“Frankie & Johnny,” United Artists, 1966.
“Paradise, Hawaiian Style,” Paramount, 1966.
“Spinout,” MGM, 1966.
“Easy Come, Easy Go,” Paramount, 1966.
“Double Trouble,” MGM, 1967.
“Clambake,” United Artists, 1967.
“Stay Away, Joe,” MGM, 1968.
“Speedway,” MGM, 1968.
“Live a Little, Love a Little,” MGM, 1968.
“Charro,” National General Pictures, 1969.
“The Trouble With Girls,” MGM, 1969.
“Change of Habit,” NBC/Universal, 1970.
“Elvis, That’s the Way it Is,” MGM, 1970.
“Elvis on Tour,” MGM, 1972.
Dunleavy, Steve, Red West, Sonny West, and Dave Hebler, Elvis, What Happened?, (expose) Ballantine Books, 1977.
Escott, Colin and Martin Hawkins, Catalyst: The Sun Records Story, Aquarius Books, 1975.
Goldman, Albert, Elvis (expose), Avon Books, 1981.
Gregory, Neal, and Janice Gregory, When Elvis Died, Communications Press, 1980.
Hammontree, Patsy Guy, Elvis Presley: A Bio-Bibliography, Greenwood Press, 1985.
Hemphill, Paul, The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music, Simon & Schuster, 1970.
Hopkins, Jerry, Elvis: A Biography, Warner Books, 1971.
Hopkins, Jerry, Elvis: The Final Years, Playboy Publishers, 1981.
Marcus, Greil, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘N’ Roll, Dutton, 1976.
Marsh, Dave, Elvis (photo essay), Rolling Stone Press, 1982.
Parish, James Robert, The Elvis Presley Scrapbook, Ballantine Books, 1975.
Pleasants, Henry, The Great American Popular Singers, Simon & Schuster, 1974.
Presley, Priscilla Beaulieu with Sandra Harmon, Elvis and Me, Putnam’s 1985.
Tharpe, Jac L, editor, Elvis: Images and Fancies, University Press of Mississippi, 1979.
Esquire, December, 1987.
New York Times, August 17, 1977.
Newsweek, November 12, 1984; August 3, 1987; June 6, 1988.
Saturday Evening Post, July-August, 1985.
People, March 4, 1985; January 14, 1985; August 17, 1987.
Time, July 20, 1987.
—Nancy H. Evans
Presley, Elvis , the “King of Rock and Roll,” perhaps the most popular vocalist of the 20th century and the man who brought rock and roll to the masses; b. East Tupelo, Miss., Jan. 8, 1935; d. Memphis, Term., Aug. 16, 1977. Elvis Presley began singing with his parents at the First Assembly of God Church in Tupelo, Miss., as a child and later accompanied them to camp meetings and revivals. He obtained his first guitar for his 11th birthday and moved with his family to Memphis, Tenn., in September 1948. He sang at a high school variety show in late 1952 and became a truck driver after graduating in June 1953. The next month, in the often told story, he went to the small local Sun Records studio to make a private recording of “My Happiness” for his mother. Noticed by secretary Marion Keisker, Presley was later teamed with guitarist Scotty Moore and standup bassist Bill Black by Sun Records president Sam Phillips. The three rehearsed for several months, returning to the Sun studios on July 6, 1954 to record Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama).” Local disc jockey Dewey Phillips (no relation to Sam) played the latter song on his radio show and the single became a regional hit. Presley made his professional performing debut at Memphis’s Overton Park on Aug. 10, 1954, and was greeted ecstatically by an audience enthralled with his rough, passionate vocals and sexually charged persona.
Elvis Presley soon began touring the South with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, billed as “The Hillbilly Cat,” as his second and third Sun singles became regional hits. In October 1954 they performed on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hatyride radio show (and would continue to do so until December 1956), appearing on the show’s television edition the following March. Released in April 1955, “Baby Let’s Play House” became a smash country-and-western hit that summer, followed in September by the top country hit “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” backed with Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” Spotted by “Colonel” Tom Parker, a former carnival barker and erstwhile manager of Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow, Presley signed a new management deal with Parker in November 1955.
Elvis Presley’s potent style and raw potential created a bidding war amongst major record labels and RCA won out with an offer of $35, 000, an astoundingly high figure for 1955. In January 1956, backed by guitarists Scotty Moore and Chet Atkins, bassist Bill Black and drummer D.J. Fontana (who had joined the trio in July 1955), he completed his first recording sessions in Nashville. Presley made his national television debut on the CBS network Dorsey Brothers Show on Jan. 28, 1956, and, within weeks, his first RCA release, “Heartbreak Hotel,” became a top pop and country-and- western and smash R&B hit. On June 5, as “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” was becoming another three-way crossover smash, Presley appeared on The Milton Berle Show to an estimated audience of 40 million. Soon, his first recording with The Jordanaires, “Don’t Be Cruel”/“Hound Dog,” both became top hits in all three fields. Appearing on television’s Ed Sullivan Show to an estimated audience of 54 million on Sept. 9, Elvis was shown from the waist up only.
Elvis Presley’s success was phenomenal, and the three-way crossover smashes continued with “Love Me Tender,” “Love Me,” “Too Much” and “All Shook Up.” During 1956 his first movie, Love Me Tender, was released, followed in 1957 by Loving You and Jailhouse Rock. On Dec. 4, 1956, Presley returned to the Memphis Sun studio to join Sun stalwarts Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash in informally singing and playing a number of gospel songs. Unknown to them, the performance was recorded. Those recordings by the so-called “Million Dollar Quartet” were bootlegged and available in Europe for years before their eventual release in the U.S. in 1990. In January 1957 Elvis recorded the four-song gospel E.P. Peace in the Valley. The songs were later included on Elvis’ Christmas Album, which also contained the secular songs “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me” and “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.”
Elvis Presley’s three-way crossover smashes continued with “Teddy Bear,” “Jailhouse Rock”/“Treat Me Nice” and “Don’t”/“I Beg of You.” He was allowed a two-month deferment to complete the movie King Creole, but, on March 24, 1958, he was drafted into the Army. Although he was to record only once during the next two years, the hits did not stop. However, after the three-way crossover smashes “Wear My Ring around Your Neck” and “Hard Headed Woman,” his subsequent crossover smashes were restricted to two fields, pop and R&B. These included “One Night”/“I Got Stung,” “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I”/“I Need Your Love Tonight” and “A Big Hunk of Love,” the last four being his only new recordings during his Army stint.
Discharged on March 5, 1960, Elvis Presley subsequently assembled the so-called “Memphis Mafia” entourage that served to protect and insulate him from the public until July 1976. He began recording far less exuberant and vital material with extra musicians to produce a fuller sound. Nonetheless, “Stuck on You,” “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” became smash pop and R&B hits. His ABC-TV television show Welcome Home Elvis, aired May 12, 1960, featured six minutes of Elvis, for which he was paid $125, 000. The show was hosted by Frank Sinatra, a man who had earlier denounced rock ‘n’ roll as “the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression.”
After making his first full album of gospel material, His Hand in Mine, in 1960, Elvis Presley appeared at his last public performance for eight years in Honolulu on March 25, 1961. He spent the 1960s making a series of lucrative but mindless movies usually staged in exotic locations featuring numerous fleshy but virginal women and only the bare semblance of a plot. He also recorded a few non-soundtrack albums as the pop-only smash hits continued with “Surrender,” “I Feel So Bad,” “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame”/“Little Sister,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Good Luck Charm” and “She’s Not You.” “Return to Sender” and “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” became his final pop and R&B smashes, with the pop-only major hits “Bossa Nova Baby,” “Kissin’ Cousins,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and “Crying in the Chapel” (rec. in 1960) ensuing. To his credit, Elvis Presley recorded perhaps the finest gospel album of his career, How Great Thou Art, for 1967 release. He married Priscilla Beaulieu on May 1, 1967, and his only child, daughter Lisa Marie, was born on Feb. 1, 1968.
In 1968, with the first inkling of a revival of interest in 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley returned to television for an attempted come-back. Less than a week before the airing of his special, one of his finer later-day singles, “If I Can Dream,” became a near-smash pop hit. The special, televised on NBC on Dec. 3, 1968, featured large-scale production numbers and Presley performing in front of a small audience with old associates Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana (Bill Black had died on Oct. 21, 1965). The special was one of the five highest-rated shows of the television year and included both “If I Can Dream” and the haunting hit “Memories.” It represented, in many ways, the peak of Elvis Presley’s career.
Elvis Presley returned to Memphis for the first time in 14 years to record his next album, From Elvis in Memphis, for which he personally chose the songs. Generally regarded as one of his finest later-day albums, it yielded a smash hit with Mac Davis’s socially conscious “In the Ghetto” and included “Power of Love,” “Any Day Now” and “Long Black Limousine.” Elvis returned to live performance on July 31, 1969 with a month-long engagement at the International Hotel (later the Hilton) in Las Vegas, backed by a 30-piece orchestra, chorus, and a five man combo featuring guitarist James Burton and keyboardist Glen D. Hardin, two of the better instrumentalists in the country. Recordings from the stand comprised the first record of From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis, while the second record (later issued as Elvis Back in Memphis) was taken from the Memphis sessions. The latter record included “Without Love (There Is Nothing),” “Do You Know Who I Am” and “Stranger in My Own Home.” In the meantime, Presley scored a top hit with “Suspicious Minds,” a smash hit with Mac Davis’s “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and a major hit with Eddie Rabbit’s “Kentucky Minds,”
After a month-long appearance at the International Hotel in February 1970, Elvis Presley again toured selected venues across the U.S. until his death in 1977, although he infrequently performed in Las Vegas after 1975. He scored a near-smash country hit with “There Goes My Everything” in 1971 and a smash pop hit with “Burning Love” in 1972. On Jan. 14, 1973, Presley performed at a Honolulu benefit that produced his last major hit album, Aloha from Hawaii. Broadcast on NBC-TV and relayed via satellite to 40 countries, the special was viewed by an estimated audience of one billion.
Elvis Presley’s fortunes again began to fade. He and Priscilla divorced on Oct. 11, 1973, and his subsequent live performances became careless and mechanical, as rumors of drug abuse and erratic personal behavior began to circulate. Most of his subsequent successes came in the country field, where he had smash hits with “I’ve Got a Thing about You,” “Help Me,” It’s Midnight,” “Hurt,” “Moody Blue” and “Way Down.” His last live performance took place in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. On Aug. 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died in his Graceland mansion in Memphis of heart failure due to prescription drug abuse at the age of 42.
Within three months of Elvis Presley’s death, his rendition of “My Way,” Frank Sinatra’s theme song, became a major pop and smash country hit. The spate of Elvis-related books began the month of his death with Elvis: What Happened?, by three former members of the “Memphis Mafia.” In 1981 Albert Goldman’s contemptuous biography Elvis was published by McGraw-Hill. The Elvis Presley estate opened Graceland to public viewing in 1982, and the mansion became the second most-visited home in America. In 1983, by means of an out-of-court settlement, “Colonel” Tom Parker severed his connection with the estate, which was overseen by ex-wife Priscilla. Through shrewd merchandising and licensing, Priscilla Presley increased the value of the Presley estate from $5 million to $100 million. In 1992, heir Lisa Marie Presley signed an agreement giving her mother the authority to run the estate for an additional five years (until 1998). “Colonel” Tom Parker died in Las Vegas on Jan. 21, 1997, at the age of 87 of complications from a stroke.
On Elvis’s 50th birthday, RCA issued the six-record compilation set of live performances, A Golden Celebration. In 1985 Macmillan published Elvis and Gladys by Elaine Dundy and Putnam published Priscilla Presley’s Elvis and Me. Elvis Presley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, 1986. In 1987 the Cinemax cable network broadcast Elvis ’56 perhaps the most telling of all filmic biographies. In 1988 Elvis and Me, based on Priscilla’s book, became the top-rated miniseries of the television season and the lavish multimedia production Elvis: An American Musical ran in Las Vegas for two months. An Elvis television series ran on ABC television in 1990 and, in 1992, RCA released the five-CD set The Complete 50s Masters, arguably the single most important body of work in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. On Elvis’s 58th birthday the U.S. Postal Service issued 500 million Elvis stamps, of which an estimated 60% were never used. During 1994 longtime Elvis friend Joe Esposito’s Good Rockin’ Tonight: Twenty Years on the Road and on the Town with Elvis was published by Simon and Schuster, and Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley was published by Little, Brown. In 1996 the first ballet based on the music of Elvis Presley, Blue Suede Shoes, premiered in Cleveland, and the production made its West Coast debut in San Jose, Calif., in 1997.
EARLY RECORDINGS : Elvis Presley (1956); Elvis (1956); Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957); For LP Fans Only (1959); A Date with Elvis (1959/1989); Elvis Is Back (1960/1989); I Was the One (rec. 1956–60; rel. 1983); The First Live Recordings (rec. 1955–56; rel. 1984); Rocker (rec. 1956–57; rel. 1984); The Complete Sun Sessions (rec. 1954–55; rel. 1987); Stereo ’57 (1989); The Million Dollar Quartet (rec. Dec. 4, 1956; rel. 1990); The Complete ’50s Masters (1992); Elvis ’56 (1996); The Elvis Tapes (interviews recorded in 1957; 1977). SOUNDTRACKS : Loving You (1957/1988); King Creole (1958); G. I. Blues (1960); Blue Hawaii (1961); Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962); It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963); Fun in Acapulco (1963); Kissin’ Cousins (1964); Roustabout (1964); Girl Happy (1965); Hamm Scarum (1965); Frankie and Johnny (1966); Paradise Hawaiian Style (1966); Spinout (1966); Double Trouble (1967); Clambake (1967); Speedway (1968); That’s the Way It Is (1970); This Is Elvis (selections; 1981); Jailhouse Rock (1997). GOSPEL ALBUMS : His Hand in Mind (1960); How Great Thou Art (1967); You’ll Never Walk Alone (1971); He Touched Me (1972); He Walks Beside Me (1978); Elvis Gospel, 1957–1971 (1989). CHRISTMAS ALBUM : Elvis’s Christmas Album (1957); Elvis Sings “The Wonderful World of Christmas” (1971). OTHER RCA ALBUMS 1960–77 : Something for Everybody (1961); Pot Luck (1962); Elvis for Everyone (1965/1990); Elvis (TV Special) (1968); From Elvis in Memphis (1969); From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis (1969); On Stage (February 1970) (1970); Back in Memphis (1970); Elvis Country (1971); Love Letters from Elvis (1971); Elvis Now (1972); Live at Madison Square Garden (1972); Aloha from Hawaii (1973); Elvis (1973); Raised on Rock (1973); Good Times (1974); Live on Stage in Memphis (1974); Having Fun with Elvis on Stage (1974); Promised Land (1975); Today (1975); From Elvis Presley Boulevard (1976); Welcome to My World (1977); Moody Blue (1977); In Concert (1977); The Alternate Aloha (1988); The Lost Album (rec. in Nashville in 1963–64; rel. 1991); I’m 10, 000 Years Old/Elvis Country (1993).
J. Hopkins, E.: A Biography (N.Y., 1971); P. Lichter, E. In Hollywood (N.Y., 1975); M. Mann, E. and The Colonel: From the Intimate Diaries of May Mann (N.Y., 1975); R. Barry, The E. P. American Discography (Phillipsburg, N.J., 1976); W. A. Harbinson, The Illustrated E. (N.Y., 1976); P. Jones. E. (London, 1976); S. Zmijewsky, The Films and Career of E. P. (Secaucus, N.J., 1976); M. Farren, compiler, E. In His Own Words (N.Y., 1977); R. West, S. West, and D. Hebler, as told to S. Dunleavy, E.: What Happened? (N.Y., 1977); P. Lichter, The Boy Who Dared to Rock: The Definitive E. (Garden City, N.Y., 1978; N.Y., 1982); J. Roggero, E. In Concert (N.Y., 1979); J. Hopkins, E.: The Final Years (N.Y., 1980; 1983); M. Crumbaker with G. Tucker, Up and Doum with E. P. (N.Y., 1981); A. Goldman, E. (N.Y., 1981); M. Hawkins and C. Escott, The Illustrated Discography (London, 1981); J. A. Whisler, E. P. Reference Guide and Discography (Metuchen, N.J., 1981); F. L. Worth and S. D. Tamerius, All about E. (N.Y., 1981); R. Carr, E. P.: An Illustrated Record (N.Y., 1982); D. Marsh, E. (N.Y., 1982, 1992); M. Torgoff, ed., The Complete E. (N.Y., 1982); L. Cotten and H. A. DeWitt, Jailhouse Rock: The Bootleg Records of E. P., 1970–1983 (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1983); J. Tobler and R. Wootton, E.: The Legend and the Music (N.Y., 1983); W. Sauers. E. P., A Complete Reference (Jefferson, N.C., 1984); P. G. Hammontree, E. P., A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1985); P. Presley with S. Harmon, E. and Me (N.Y., 1985); L. Cotton, All Shook Up: E. Day-By-Day, 1954–1977 (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1985); L. Cotton, The E. Catalog (Garden City, N.Y., 1987); A. Goldman, E. P. (London, 1987); D. Vellenga, E. and The Colonel (N.Y., 1988); F. L. Worth and S. D. Tamerius, E.: His Life from A to Z (Chicago, Ill., 1988; N.Y., 1992); L. Geller and J. Spector with P. Romanowski, If I Can Dream: E.’s Own Story (N.Y., 1989); G. McLafferty, E. P. in Hollywood: Celluloid Sell-Out (London, 1989); E. Greenwood and K. Tracy, The Boy Who Would Be King: An Intimate Portrait of E. P. (N.Y., 1990); C. Latham and J. Sakol, “E” Is for E.: An A-to-Z Illustrated Guide to the King of Rock and Roll (N.Y., 1990); G. Marcus, Dead E.: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession (N.Y., 1991); C. C. Thompson II and J. P. Cale, The Death of E.: What Really Happened (N.Y., 1991); K. Quain, ed., The E. Reader: Texts and Sources on the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (N.Y., 1992); H. A. DeWitt, E., The Sun Years: The Story of E. P. in the 1950s (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1993); A. Schroer, Private E.: The Missing Years, E. in Germany (N.Y., 1993); W. Allen, E. (N.Y., 1994); J. Esposito and E. Oumano, Good Rockin’ Tonight: Twenty Years on the Road and on the Town with E. (N.Y., 1994); P. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of E. P. (Boston, Mass., 1994); P. J. Pierce, The Ultimate E.: E. P. Day by Day (N.Y., 1994); D. Stanley, The E. Encyclopedia (Los Angeles, Calif., 1994); A. Nash, E. Aaron P.: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia (N.Y., 1995); R. Gordon, The King on the Road: E. on Tour, 1954–1977 (N.Y., 1996); G. B. Rodman, E. after E.: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend (London, N.Y., 1996); P. O. Whitman, The Inner E.: A Psychological Biography of E. Aaron P. (N.Y., 1996); S. Moore and J. Dickerson, That’s Alright, E.: The Untold Story of E.’s First Guitarist and Manager (N.Y., 1997); P. Guralnick, Careless Love (Boston, Mass., 1998).
Nationality: American. Born: Elvis Aron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, 8 January 1935. Education: Attended L. C. Humes High School, Memphis, Tennessee, graduated 1953. Family: Married Priscilla Beaulieu, 1967 (divorced 1973), daughter: Lisa Marie. Career: Worked as truck driver; 1954—first recording: by 1956, the center of tremendous publicity based on his records and appearances on television and stage; 1956—contract with Hal Wallis: film debut in Love Me Tender, followed by a series of successful films until 1969; 1958–60—served in the U.S. Army in West Germany; returned to singing and moviemaking; occasional cabaret engagements. Died: In Memphis, 16 August 1977.
Films as Actor:
Love Me Tender (Webb)
Loving You (Kanter); Jailhouse Rock (Thorpe)
King Creole (Curtiz)
G.I. Blues (Taurog); Flaming Star (Siegel)
Wild in the Country (Dunne); Blue Hawaii (Taurog)
Follow That Dream (Douglas); Kid Galahad (Karlson); Girls! Girls! Girls! (Taurog)
It Happened at the World's Fair (Taurog); Fun in Acapulco(Thorpe)
Kissin' Cousins (Nelson); Viva Las Vegas (Sidney); Roustabout (Rich)
Girl Happy (Sagal); Tickle Me (Taurog); Harum Scarum(Nelson)
Frankie and Johnny (de Cordova); Paradise, Hawaiian Style(Moore); Spinout (Taurog)
Easy Come, Easy Go (Rich); Double Trouble (Taurog);Clambake (Nadel)
Stay Away Joe (Tewksbury); Speedway (Taurog); Live a Little, Love a Little (Taurog)
Charro! (Warren); The Trouble with Girls (Tewksbury);Change of Habit (Moore)
Elvis—That's the Way It Is (Sanders—doc)
Elvis on Tour (Adidge and Abel—doc)
On PRESLEY: books—
Wallis, Hal, and Charles Higham, Starmaker, New York, 1980.
Hawkins, Martin, and Colin Escott, Elvis: The Illustrated Discography, London, 1981.
Hopkins, Jerry, Elvis: The Final Years, London, 1981.
Rogale, Jean-Yves, Le Roi Elvis, Paris, 1981.
Sauers, Wendy, Elvis Presley: A Complete Reference, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1984.
McLafferty, Gerry, Elvis in Hollywood: Celluloid Sell Out, New York, 1989.
Schuster, Hal, The Films of Elvis Presley, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1989.
Bartel, Pauline C., Reel Elvis: The Ultimate Trivia Guide to the King's Movies, Dallas, 1994.
Esposito, Joe, Good Rockin' Tonight: Twenty Years on the Road and on the Town with Elvis, New York, 1994.
Hazen, Cindy, The Best of Elvis: Recollections of a Great Humanitarian, New York, 1994.
Stanley, David, The Elvis Encyclopedia, Los Angeles, 1994.
Nash, Bruce M., Amazing but True Elvis Facts, Kansas City, Missouri, 1995.
Carman, Wayne, Elvis's Karate Legacy: The Untold Story of Elvis Presley's Faith, Spirit & Discipline, Branson, 1998.
Gould, Jay, Elvis 2000: The King Returns, London, 1999.
Kirchberg, Connie, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon & the American Dream, Jefferson, 1999.
Levinson, Robert S., The Elvis & Marilyn Affair, New York, 1999.
Opdyke, Steven, The Printed Elvis: The Complete Guide to Books About the King, Westport, 1999.
On PRESLEY: articles—
Meltzer, R., "The Films of Elvis Presley," in Take One (Montreal), March 1974.
Marill, Alvin H., in Films in Review (New York), December 1977.
Braun, Eric, "Elvis: In Search of Satisfaction," in Films (London), September 1982.
Barron, M., and F. Barron, "Elvis! A Personal View," in Hollywood: Then and Now, no. 8, 1992.
Joyrich, L., "Elvisophilia: Knowledge Pleasure, and the Cult of Elvis," in Differences, no. 1, 1993.
Hampton, Howard, "Elvis Dorado: The True Romance of Viva Las Vegas, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1994.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 7 January 1995.
Okuda, Ted, "Who Was That Masked Batgirl?" in Filmfax (Evanston), July-August 1995.
Cambor, K., "The King Lives On," in Newsweek, 18 August 1997.
Gates, D., "Good Rockin,"' in Newsweek, 18 August 1997.
Schoemer, K., "Burning Love," in Newsweek, 18 August 1997.
* * *
No major star suffered through more bad movies than Elvis Presley. Of the 31 he made in his decade-and-a-half as a movie star, arguably only Don Siegel's Flaming Star, in which he played Pacer, a half-breed torn between loyalty to his Kiowa mother and his white father and stepbrother—a nonsinging role for Presley—has any redeeming value beyond the star's appearance. That he continued to make films for 13 years is testament to the durability of his star quality.
In 1956 Presley rose from obscurity to become a national figure as rock and roll's first superstar. Within months of his first national recording success Presley began making films; Love Me Tender, released before the year's end, recouped its $1 million cost in the first three days of release.
Presley's next three films featured some of his best work as both singer and actor. In Loving You, he played Deke Rivers, a sensitive, small town teenager who makes a rapid rise to national prominence as a rock 'n' roll singer. Among the many great performance pieces is the finale, "Got a Lot of Living to Do," which features Elvis in a thigh-slapping, hip-shaking performance. In his next film, Jailhouse Rock, Elvis was shown at his singular rockin' best: as inmate Vince Everett, he leads his fellow prisoners through a volcanic, snarling rendition of the title song. This film, like Elvis's other early movies, allowed him to create a more well-rounded character than in his later efforts. The final scene where he faces the possibility of losing his voice and realizes the importance of his friends is touching.
As with Loving You and Jailhouse Rock, Elvis's next film, King Creole, was a narrative about the complications of a rapid rise to stardom. Set in New Orleans, Presley played high school student Danny Fisher, an insolent punk who is "discovered" and becomes the toast of Bourbon Street. Similar to Loving You, King Creole contained autobiographical overtones: like Elvis, Danny Fisher's music was based in black culture—in the film's opening, Elvis and several black street vendors sing "Crawfish," while at the King Creole, Danny rocks in a Dixieland style with a call/response format. In Loving You, Presley had paid homage to his other major musical influence—country music—with his performance of "Lonesome Cowboy."
Considering his substantial following, it is curious that he was continually saddled with mediocre scripts and second-rate directors, particularly after his 1960 return from Army service. It was as if Hollywood knew he would bring in the customers despite the narratives. Loyal fans continued to see his films and eventually contributed in excess of $180 million to the Hollywood coffers. In addition they gave gold status to nine soundtrack albums.
While the early films featured Presley as a rock star, many of his 1960s vehicles had him in any number of improbable guises from which he broke into improbable song: as the rebellious Glen Tyler in Wild in the Country, he develops a relationship with a psychiatric counselor (Hope Lange) who encourages his flair for writing and arranges for him to receive a scholarship to college; as race car driver Lucky Jackson in Viva Las Vegas he uses his singing talents to woo a swimming instructor played by Ann-Margret; as American movie star Johnny Tyrone in Harum Scarum, he is kidnapped in the Middle East, escapes, and falls in love with Princess Shalimar (played by Miss America, Mary Ann Mobley). Of the 1960s films, Roustabout is arguably the most interesting. Here Elvis plays Charlie Rogers, an insolent, parentless entertainer who finds a new home with a carnival show operated by Barbara Stanwyck. His performances light up the midway and save the carnival from bankruptcy. The experience of working with the pop idol was a positive one for the screen veteran; as Stanwyck stated, "The idea of working with Mr. Presley intrigued me . . . . Mr. Wallis said he was a wonderful person to work with . . . and he is. His manners are impeccable, he is on time, he knows his lines, he asks for nothing outside of what any other actor or actress wants."
Throughout the 1960s Presley avoided the concert and public appearance route, opting for visibility through films. By the end of the decade this strategy had begun to fail, neither movies nor records selling at previous high levels. With the failure of Change of Habit—with Mary Tyler Moore as a nun—Elvis stopped making films. No one seemed interested in Presley, who at the height of his film career was earning $1 million per movie plus a substantial percentage of the gross.
Presley was able to break out of the confines of his now-dated image by leaving the silver screen for the small screen. In a 1968 television special that combined the hokey musical numbers familiar from his movies with leather-clad, bare-bones rocking and rolling (in front of a live audience), Elvis reintroduced himself to the public. His career was reinvigorated, with a return to concert tours and rootsier, bluesier recordings (his records of the 1960s generally having consisted of substandard movie soundtrack songs, which bore little resemblance to his seminal 1950s rockabilly style). To capitalize on Presley's change of direction, a movie was again considered, but this time it was to be a documentary of an Elvis concert tour. Elvis, That's the Way It Is brought forth Presley's charisma and musical talent far better than the mundane, studio-concocted fluff he had been forced to wade through for the previous decade. In typical Presley fashion, however, once was not enough. Two years later Elvis on Tour gave us another look at "the King" on-and off-stage, but the magic was wearing thin for both Elvis and his audiences. It was to be Elvis's last movie.
Presley's importance to film history is less for his continued popularity than for the trend he set within the musical genre. With the success of his vehicles, other recording stars were signed to movie roles and throughout the 1960s there continued a never-ending stream of jukebox musicals: minimal narratives with lots of hit tunes.
In the first scene of his movie debut, Elvis was seen deep in the frame laboriously dragging a plow. In retrospect we can only marvel at how prophetic that shot was considering the material he was made to drag through movie theaters for the next 14 years.
—Doug Tomlinson, updated by Frank Uhle
Elvis Presley, the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," was the leading American singer for two decades and the most popular singer of the entire early rock 'n' roll era.
Young Elvis and Sun Records
Elvis Aron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935, to Gladys and Vernon Presley. His twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, died shortly after birth. His father worked as a carpenter, farmer, and factory worker to support the family but was not successful in any of his jobs. Raised in a poor and religious environment, Elvis grew especially close to his mother. Elvis's singing ability was discovered when he was an elementary school student in Tupelo, and he first started singing with the choir of his local church. He received his first guitar as a birthday present when he was about twelve and taught himself how to play, although he could not read music. He went on to participate in numerous talent contests in Tupelo and in Memphis, Tennessee, where the family moved when Elvis was thirteen.
In 1953, after Elvis graduated from L. C. Humes High School in Memphis, he began working as a truck driver to pay his way into the Memphis Recording Services studio to cut his own records. Less than a year later he recorded "That's All Right Mama" for Sun Records. It became his first commercial release, selling twenty thousand copies.
The birth of rock 'n' roll
Elvis reached the top of the country charts with "Mystery Train" in 1955. His first number one song on the so-called "Hot 100" was "Heartbreak Hotel" (1956), which held that position for seven of the twenty-seven weeks it was on the chart. This song also reached the top of the country charts, and it became a symbol of his ability to combine country singing with rhythm-and-blues, as well as with the new rage that had grown out of rhythm-and-blues: rock 'n' roll. The rest of the 1950s brought Elvis "living legend" status with records that included "Hound Dog" (1956), "Don't Be Cruel" (1956), "Blue Suede Shoes" (1956), "Love Me Tender" (1956), "All Shook Up" (1957), and "Jailhouse Rock" (1957). He started the 1960s in similar fashion with "It's Now or Never" (1960) and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (1960).
Elvis was universally dubbed the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" and led the new music from its beginnings in the 1950s to its peak in the 1960s and on to its permanent place in the music of the 1970s and the 1980s. His impact on American popular culture was tremendous, as he seemed to affect manner of dress, hairstyles, and even behavior. John Lennon (1940–1980) would later note Elvis as one of the most important influences on the Beatles. Even his spinning hip movements became legendary as he continued his rock 'n' roll conquest to the extent of 136 gold records (500,000 sold) and 10 platinum records (1 million sold). Ultimately he had the most records to make the rating charts and was the top recording artist for two straight decades, the 1950s and the 1960s.
Elvis in the movies
Elvis was an instant success in television and movies as well. Millions watched his television appearances on The Steve Allen Show, The Milton Berle Show, The Toast of the Town, and a controversial (open to dispute) appearance on the The Ed Sullivan Show, in which cameras were instructed to stay above the hips of "Elvis the Pelvis." He was an even bigger box office smash, beginning with Love Me Tender in 1956. Thirty-two movies later, Elvis had become the top box-office draw for two decades, with ticket sales over $150 million.
Although few of Elvis's motion pictures were well-received by the critics, they showcased his music and extended his image and fame. His movies included Jailhouse Rock (1957), King Creole (1958), G. I. Blues (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Viva Las Vegas (1964), and Spinout (1966). Wild in the Country (1961), based on the J. R. Salamanca novel The Lost Country, marked his debut in a straight dramatic role.
Elvis began a well-publicized stint in the army in 1958. That year, while he was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, his mother died. The remainder of his military service was spent stationed in Germany, until his discharge (release) in 1960. It was in Germany that he met Priscilla Beaulieu (1945–), his future wife.
Elvis's success in the entertainment industry was accompanied by numerous failures in his personal life. He arranged to have Priscilla, still a teenager, live at his new Memphis home, Graceland Mansion, while she finished high school there. He married her in 1967, and she bore him his only child, Lisa Marie Presley, in 1968. In 1973 he and Priscilla were divorced. During this time, and for his entire career, his personal manager, Tom Parker, controlled his finances. As Elvis's millions grew, so too did the mismanagement of Parker, a known gambler. Parker was later prosecuted for his financial dealings, but he was acquitted (proven innocent). Elvis made an estimated $4.3 billion in earnings during his lifetime, but he never acquired a concept of financial responsibility. This caused frequent legal battles during and after his lifetime among his management people and several record companies. Elvis had similar luck with his friendships, and frequently surrounded himself with a gang of thugs to shield him from an adoring public.
Beginning of the end
A weight problem became evident in the late 1960s, and in private Elvis became increasingly dependent on drugs, particularly amphetamines and sedatives. His personal doctor, George Nichopoulos, would later be prosecuted, but acquitted, for prescribing and dispensing thousands of pills and narcotics (illegal drugs) to him.
Though Elvis's weight and drug dependency were increasing, Elvis continued a steady flow of concert performances in sold-out arenas well into the 1970s. On August 16, 1977, the day before another concert tour was about to begin, Elvis was found dead in Graceland Mansion by his fiancée, Ginger Alden. The official cause of death was heart disease, although information revealed after his death about his drug dependency created a media event. His death caused worldwide scenes of mourning.
Elvis continues to be celebrated as superstar and legend as much in death as he was in life. Graceland Mansion, which he had purchased in 1957 for $102,500, is the top tourist attraction in Memphis and has attracted millions of visitors from both America and around the world.
Presley became the first-ever inductee into three music halls of fame when it was announced that he would be inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame on November 27, 2001, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was already a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Country Hall of Fame.
For More Information
Gordon, Robert. The Elvis Treasures. New York: Villard, 2001.
Jenkins, Mary. Memories Beyond Graceland Gates. Buena Park, CA: West Coast Publishers, 1989.
Lichter, Paul. The Boy Who Dared to Rock: The Definitive Elvis. Garden City, NY: Dolphin Books, 1978.
Sauer, Wendy. Elvis Presley: A Complete Reference. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1984.
Presley was born a twin on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi . His brother, Jesse, died shortly after birth. Elvis's singing ability became obvious when he was still in elementary school. At thirteen, he and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee .
After graduating from high school in 1953, Presley worked as a truck driver to earn money to record his own records. Before the end of 1954, he recorded his first commercial release, “That's All Right (Mama).” It sold twenty thousand copies.
Presley's first number one song on the Hot 100 charts was “Heartbreak Hotel” (1956), and it was that song that brought him to the attention of the nation. The tune spent twenty-seven weeks on the chart, seven of them in first place. It also reached the top of country charts, testament to the musician's ability to combine country with rhythm and blues to appeal to a crossover audience.
Presley spent the rest of the decade turning out one hit after another, all under the new label of rock and roll. “Don’t Be Cruel” (1956) was followed by “Blue Suede Shoes” (1956), “Love Me Tender” (1956), “All Shook Up,” (1957), and “Jailhouse Rock” (1957). He was the top recording artist throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and before his life ended, he had 136 gold records and 10 platinum albums.
Presley not only influenced and pioneered the music scene of his era, he shaped American culture with his manner of dress, hairstyle, and dance. Never before had anyone seen a performer gyrate his hips as Presley did, and he shocked and frightened parents and more conservative Americans across the nation. Teens and young adults loved him, though, and John Lennon (1940–1980) credited Presley as one of the most important influences on his own band, the Beatles.
As television became a major entertainment medium, Presley made guest appearances on the many variety shows of the era, including The Milton Berle Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. Cameramen were instructed to show the performer from the waist up only, to avoid controversy caused by his gyrating hip movements.
The entertainer made his mark in films as well. His first movie, Love Me Tender, was released in 1956. By the time he made his thirty-third and last movie, Presley had become the top box office draw during the previous two decades and had grossed over $150 million. His movies were nothing more than vehicles to showcase his singing and dancing abilities, and all of them included young, beautiful women. Critics agree that Presley's films did as much as his songs to cement his place in cultural history. Some of his more successful movies include Jailhouse Rock (1957), King Creole (1958), G. I. Blues (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), and Viva Las Vegas (1964).
Presley served in the U.S. Army from 1958 until his discharge in 1960. While in Germany, he met Priscilla Beaulieu, who later became his wife.
As successful as Presley was in his professional life, his personal life was a succession of failure and struggles. Before Priscilla had even graduated from high school, he had arranged to have her live in his new mansion, Graceland, in Memphis. In 1967, they married, and their only child, Lisa Marie Presley, was born the following year. The couple divorced in 1973.
For Presley's entire career, his personal manager, Colonel Tom Parker (1909–1997), controlled and mismanaged the star's finances. Because of Parker's manipulation, Presley never learned how to manage his own money, and this caused many problems for him. Although Parker was eventually tried for his unethical management dealings, he was found not guilty.
Presley fared little better when it came to managing his own health. Beginning in the late 1960s, he battled with his weight and became increasingly dependent on drugs, mostly amphetamines and sedatives. His doctor, George Nichopoulos, prescribed and dispensed thousands of pills and narcotics to the star.
Weight and drug problems notwithstanding, Presley continued to perform to sell-out audiences well into the 1970s. On August 16, 1977, he was found dead in his home. The official cause of death was heart disease, but when the public learned of his drug addiction, many speculated that drugs led to the heart attack. The world mourned for weeks.
Presley's home, Graceland mansion, remains the top tourist attraction in Memphis in the twenty-first century. Millions of visitors have entered the gates. Presley is the only star to be honored with membership in three music halls of fame: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was inducted into the first U.K. Hall of Fame as an honorary member. That same year, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the song's release, “That's All Right (Mama)” was played simultaneously on more than one thousand radio stations across the nation.
Following the death of Elvis Presley on August 16, 1977, numerous reports of contact with him began to surface. One set of these reports concluded that he was still alive and for whatever reason had made some random contact with different individuals. The exploration of that hypothesis even became the subject of a prime-time television special on United States television.
At the same time, a number of mediums and other people with some psychic abilities claimed to have contacted Elvis and to have received messages from him in the spirit world. (It is not unusual for mediums to claim contact with famous people who have recently died.) Among the first to claim contact was Milwaukee medium June Young, who claims to have begun receiving messages within days of Elvis's death. She published a magazine, Elvis Still Lives, which included texts of her ongoing contacts.
Journalist Hans Holzer received information on a variety of people with messages, but was most impressed with those received by Dorothy Sherry, who seems to have begun contact in January 1978. The account became the basic story of his recent book Elvis Speaks from the Beyond and other Celebrity Ghost Stories (1993).
Such stories have appeared regularly in the weekly tabloids, among the most recent being a 1995 account of a woman who claimed that she was cured by the ghost of Elvis.
Holzer, Hans. Elvis Speaks from the Beyond and other Celebrity Ghost Stories. New York: Dorset Press, 1993.
"I Was Cured by Ghost of Elvis." Sun (January 24, 1995).
Elvis Presley (Elvis Aaron Presley), 1935–77, American popular singer, b. Tupelo, Miss. Exposed to gospel music from childhood, Presley began playing guitar before his adolescence. He first recorded in 1953, became a national sensation by 1956, and dominated rock music until 1963. Presley sang successfully in three popular idioms: country and western, rock 'n' roll, and rhythm and blues. Although he had a pleasant baritone voice and a sincere delivery, it was his pelvic gyrations, considered wildly sexual by an entire generation of teenagers and their appalled parents, which skyrocketed Presley to fame. Among his most successful songs were
"Love Me Tender,"
"Don't Be Cruel."
His success spawned a spate of B movies and from 1956 to 1972 he appeared in 33 motion pictures including Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Follow That Dream (1962). Presley remained a popular and influential performer through the 1960s and 70s. His death was attributed largely to substance abuse. Since his death, popular interest in Presley has remained high; his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn., has been turned into a highly successful tourist attraction and pop culture shrine.
See account by his former wife, Priscilla, Elvis and Me (with S. Harmon, 1986); J. Hopkins, Elvis: The Final Years (1986), L. Cotten, Elvis Catalog (1987), R. Gibson and S. Shaw, Elvis (1987); biography by P. Guralnick (2 vol., 1994, 1998).