2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers
Elvis Presley at the White House in 1970
|Birth name||Elvis Aron Presley|
|Born||January 8, 1935|
|Origin||Tupelo, Mississippi, USA|
|Died|| August 16, 1977
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
|Genre(s)||Rock and roll, country, gospel, blues|
|Occupation(s)||singer, musician, actor, American soldier,|
|Instrument(s)||Guitar and piano|
|Label(s)||Sun, RCA Victor|
Elvis Aron Presley ( January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), often known simply as Elvis and also called "The King of Rock 'n' Roll" or simply "The King", was an American singer, musician and actor. He is regarded by some to be the most important, original entertainer of the last fifty years and there is little doubt that Presley is the most talked about and written about performer of the 20th Century. (Presley's birth certificate uses the spelling Aron, but his estate has designated Aaron as the official spelling of his middle name. It is spelled Aron because of his twin brother that died at birth, Garon, so Elvis would always have a part of his brother with him.)
Presley started as a singer of rockabilly, singing many songs from rhythm and blues, gospel and country. He was first billed as "The Hilbilly Cat". His combination of country music with bluesy vocals and a strong back beat marked a clear path toward rock & roll. He was the most commercially successful singer of rock and roll, but he also had success with ballads, country, gospel, blues, pop, folk and even semi-operatic and jazz standards. His voice, which developed into many voices as his career progressed, had always a unique tonality and an extraordinary unusual centre of gravity, leading to his ability to tackle a range of songs and melodies which would be nearly impossible for most other popular singers to achieve. In a musical career of over two decades, Presley set many records, such as concert attendance, television ratings, and records sales, and became one of the best-selling artists in music history.
He is an icon of modern American pop culture. In the late 1960s, Presley re-emerged as a live performer of old and new hit songs, both on tour and in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was known for his on-stage highly energetic performances both vocally and physically, his sartorial jump-suits and capes adding to the drama. He attracted massive attendance figures. His concert performances were staggering in quantity, considering they numbered over 1,100 in 8 years. He continued to perform before sell-out audiences around the U.S. until his death in 1977. His death was premature at 42, despite alarming concerns about his health. When he died on August 16, 1977, it was a huge shock to his fans. However, it soon became clear that a combination of over-work, obesity, depression, bad diet and severe abuse of prescription drugs, accelerated his premature departure. However, much confusion, conflict, contradictions and general controversy still surrounds his death. Regardless, his popularity as a singer has survived his death.
Presley was born on January 8, 1935 at around 4:35 a.m. in a two-room shotgun house in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Presley, a truck driver, and Gladys Love Smith, a sewing machine operator. Vernon Presley is described as "taciturn to the point of sullenness," whereas his mother, Gladys, was "voluble, lively, full of spunk." Priscilla Presley describes her as "a surreptitious drinker and alcoholic." When she was angry, "she cussed like a sailor." Presley's twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn, thus leaving him to grow up as an only child. BNBNSuperscript text The surname Presley was Anglicized from the German name "Pressler" during the Civil War. His ancestor Johann Valentin Pressler emigrated to America in 1710. Presley was mostly of Scottish, Native American, Irish, Jewish, and German roots.
Presley's parents were very protective of their only surviving child. The little boy "grew up a loved and precious child. He was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother." His mother Gladys "worshipped him," said a neighbour, "from the day he was born." Elvis himself said, "My mama never let me out of her sight. I couldn't go down to the creek with the other kids." In his teens he was still a very shy person, a "kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home in his nineteen years."
He was teased by his fellow classmates who threw "things at him - rotten fruit and stuff - because he was different, because he was quiet and he stuttered and he was a mama's boy." Gladys was so proud of her son, that, years later, she "would get up early in the morning to run off the fans so Elvis could sleep". She was frightened of Elvis being hurt: "She knew her boy, and she knew he could take care of himself, but what if some crazy man came after him with a gun? she said... tears streaming down her face."
In 1938, when Presley was three years old, his father was convicted of forgery. Vernon, Gladys's brother Travis Smith, and Luther Gable went to prison for altering a check from Orville Bean, Vernon's boss, from $3 to $8 and then cashing it at a local bank. Vernon was sentenced to three years at Mississippi State Penitentiary. Though Vernon was released after serving eight months, this event deeply influenced the life of the young family. During her husband's absence, Gladys lost the house and was forced to move in briefly with her in-laws next door. The Presley family lived just above the poverty line during their years in East Tupelo.
In 1941 Presley started school at the East Tupelo Consolidated. There he seems to have been an outsider. His few friends relate that he was separate from any crowd and did not belong to any "gang", but, according to his teachers, he was a sweet and average student, and he loved comic books. In 1943 Vernon moved to Memphis, where he found work and stayed throughout the war, coming home only on weekends.
In January 1945 Gladys took Elvis shopping for a birthday present at Tupelo hardware. She bought him his first guitar, in lieu of a bike and rifle, for $12.75.
In 1946 Presley started at a new school, Milam, which went from grades 5 through 9, but in 1948 the family left Tupelo, moving 110 miles northwest to Memphis, Tennessee. Here, too, the thirteen-year-old lived in the city's poorer section of town and attended a Pentecostal church. At this time, he was very much influenced by the Memphis blues music and the gospel sung at his church. His only reason for waking up in the morning was to give those he deemed "squares" a "haircut on the neckline."
Presley entered Humes High School in Memphis and worked at the school library and after school at Loew's State Theatre. In 1951 he enrolled in the school's ROTC unit and tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the high school football team, (the coach supposedly cut him from the team for not trimming his sideburns and ducktail). He spent his spare time around the African-American section of Memphis, especially on Beale Street. In 1953 he graduated from Humes, majoring in History, English, and Shop.
After graduation Presley worked at the Parker Machinists Shop, and, after working at the Precision Tool Company with his father, worked for the Crown Electric Company driving a truck. Here he began wearing his hair in his signature pompadour style.
Elvis Presley was a baritone whose voice had an extraordinary compass — the so-called register — and a very wide range of vocal colour. It covered two octaves and a third, from the baritone low-G to the tenor high B, with an upward extension in falsetto to at least a D flat. Presley's best octave was in the middle, D-flat to D-flat. "He has always been able to duplicate the open, hoarse, ecstatic, screaming, shouting, wailing, reckless sound of the black rhythm-and-blues and gospel singers. But he has not been confined to that one type of vocal production." In ballads and country songs he was able to belt out "full-voiced high Gs and As that an opera baritone might envy," showing a remarkable ability to naturally assimilate styles. His "voice has always been weak at the bottom, variable and unpredictable. At the top it is often brilliant. His upward passage would seem to lie in the area of E flat, E and F."
Presley's range, though impressive in its own right, did not in itself make his voice that remarkable, at least in terms of how it measured against musical notation. What made it extraordinary, was where its centre of gravity lay. By that measure, and according to Gregory Sandows, Music Professor at Columbia University, Presley was at once a bass, a baritone, and a tenor, most unusual among singers in either classical or popular music.
On July 18, 1953 Presley paid $3.25 to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates at Sun Studios, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", which were popular ballads at the time. According to the official Presley website, Presley gave it to his mother as a much-belated birthday present. Presley returned to Sun Studios (706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee) on January 4, 1954. He again paid $8.25 to record a second demo, "I'll Never Stand in Your Way" and "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You" (master 0812).
Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who had already recorded blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, James Cotton, B.B. King, Little Milton, and Junior Parker , was looking for "a white man with a Negro sound and the Negro feel," with whom he "could make a billion dollars," because he thought black blues and boogie-woogie music might become tremendously popular among white people if presented in the right way. The Sun Records producer felt that a black rhythm and blues act stood little chance at the time of gaining the broad exposure needed to achieve large-scale commercial success."
Phillips and assistant Marion Keisker heard the Presley discs and called him on June 26, 1954, to fill in for a missing ballad singer. Although that session was not productive, Phillips put Presley together with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black to see what might develop. During a rehearsal break on July 5, 1954, Presley began singing a blues song written by Arthur Crudup called " That's All Right". Phillips liked the resulting record and on July 19, 1954, he released it as a 78-rpm single backed with Presley's hopped-up version of Bill Monroe's bluegrass song " Blue Moon of Kentucky". Memphis radio station WHBQ began playing it two days later; the record became a local hit and Presley began a regular touring schedule hoping to expand his fame beyond Tennessee.
However, Sam Phillips had difficulty persuading Southern white disc jockeys to play Presley's first recordings. The only place that played his records at first were in the Negro sections of Chicago and Detroit and in California. However, his music and style began to draw larger and larger audiences as he toured the South in 1955. Soon, demands by white teenagers that their local radio stations play his music overcame much of that resistance and as Rolling Stone magazine wrote years later in Presley's biography: "Overnight, it seemed, 'race music', as the music industry had labeled the work of black artists, became a thing of the past, as did the pejorative 'hillbilly' music." Still, throughout 1955 and even well into 1956 when he had become a national phenomenon, Presley had to deal with an entrenched racism of die-hard segregationists and their continued labeling of his sound and style as vulgar "jungle music". Allegations of racism were made against Presley, possibly by those segregationist elements who hated what he was doing. Jet examined the issue and in its August 1, 1957 edition, the African American magazine concluded that: "To Elvis, people are people regardless of race, colour or creed."
Country music star Hank Snow arranged to have Presley perform at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry and his performance was well received. Nonetheless, one of the show's executives allegedly told Presley, "You ain't going nowhere, son. You may as well stick to driving a truck."
Presley's second single, "Good Rockin' Tonight", with "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" on the B-side, was released on September 25, 1954. He then continued to tour the South. On October 16, 1954, he made his first appearance on Louisiana Hayride, a radio broadcast of live country music in Shreveport, Louisiana, and was a hit with the large audience. His releases began to reach the top of the country charts. Following this, Presley was signed to a one-year contract for a weekly performance, during which time he was introduced to Colonel Tom Parker.
National exposure began on January 28, 1956, when Presley, Moore, Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana made their first National Television appearance on the Dorsey brothers' Stage Show. It was the first of six appearances on the show and the first of eight performances recorded and broadcast from CBS TV Studio 50 at 1697 Broadway, New York. After the success of their first appearance, they were signed to five more in early 1956 (February 4, 11, 18 and March 17 and 24).
Presley and his manager "Colonel" Tom Parker
On August 15, 1955, Presley was signed by "Hank Snow Attractions", a management company jointly owned by singer Hank Snow and "Colonel" Tom Parker. Shortly thereafter, "Colonel" Parker took full control and, recognizing the limitations of Sun Studios, negotiated a deal with RCA Victor Records to acquire Presley's Sun contract for $35,000 on November 21, 1955. Presley's first single for RCA "Heartbreak Hotel" quickly sold one million copies and within a year RCA would go on to sell ten million Presley singles.
Parker was a master promoter who wasted no time in furthering Presley's image, licensing everything from guitars to cookware. Parker's first major coup was to market Presley on television. First, he had Presley booked in six of the Dorsey Shows (CBS). Presley appeared on the show on January 28, 1956, then on February 4, 11 & 18, 1956, with two more appearances on March 17 & 24, 1956. In March, he was able to obtain a lucrative deal with Milton Berle (NBC) for two appearances. The first appearance was on April 3, 1956. The second appearance was controversial due to Presley's performance of " Hound Dog" on June 5, 1956. It sparked a storm over his "gyrations" while singing. The controversy lasted through the rest of the 50's. However, that show drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (ABC) booked him for one appearance, which took place early on July 1, 1956. That night, Allen had for the first time beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the Sunday night ratings, prompting Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances: September 9, and October 28, 1956 as well as January 6, 1957, for an unprecedented fee of $50,000. On September 9, 1956, at his first of three appearances on the Sullivan show, Presley drew an estimated 82.5% percent of the television audience, calculated at between 55-60 million viewers. On his third and final appearance ( January 6, 1957) on the The Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan was so impressed by Presley that he pointed to him and told the audience "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you ... You're thoroughly all right." Presley remains the only one on Sullivan's show to have received such a warm and personal accolade. However, it has also been said that Presley's manager orchestrated the compliment in exchange for permitting Presley to appear, after Sullivan had earlier publicly stated his refusal to allow Presley on his program.
Parker eventually negotiated a multi-picture seven-year contract with Hal Wallis that shifted Presley's focus from music to films. Under the terms of his contract, Presley earned a fee for performing plus a percentage of the profits on the films, most of which were huge moneymakers. These were usually musicals based around Presley performances, and marked the beginning of his transition from rebellious rock and roller to all-round family entertainer. Presley was praised by all his directors, including the highly respected Michael Curtiz, as unfailingly polite and extremely hardworking.
Presley began his movie career with Love Me Tender which opened on November 15, 1956. The movies Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) are regarded as among his best early films.
Parker's success led to Presley expanding the "Colonel's" management contract to an even 50/50 split. Over the years, much has been written about "Colonel" Parker, most of it critical. Marty Lacker, a lifelong friend and a member of the Memphis Mafia, says he thought of Parker as a "hustler and scam artist" who abused Presley's reliance on him. Priscilla Presley admits that "Elvis detested the business side of his career. He would sign a contract without even reading it." This would explain the strong influence the Colonel had on Presley. Nonetheless, Lacker acknowledged that Parker was a master promoter.
Presley and African American music
Even in the 1950s era of blatant racism, Presley would publicly cite his debt to African American music, pointing to artists such as B. B. King, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Jackie Wilson, Robert Johnson, Ivory Joe Hunter, and Fats Domino. The reporter who conducted Presley's first interview in New York City in 1956 noted that he named blues singers who "obviously meant a lot to him. I was very surprised to hear him talk about the black performers down there and about how he tried to carry on their music." Later that year in Charlotte, North Carolina, Presley was quoted as saying: "The colored folks been singing it and playing it just like I’m doin' now, man, for more years than I know. They played it like that in their shanties and in their juke joints and nobody paid it no mind 'til I goosed it up. I got it from them. Down in Tupelo, Mississippi, I used to hear old Arthur Crudup bang his box the way I do now and I said if I ever got to a place I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw." Little Richard said of Presley: "He was an integrator. Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn’t let black music through. He opened the door for black music." B. B. King said he began to respect Presley after he did Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup material and that after he met him, he thought the singer really was something else and was someone whose music was growing all the time right up to his death.
Up to the mid 1950s black artists had sold minuscule amounts of their recorded music relative to the national market potential. Black songwriters had mostly limited horizons and could only eke out a living. But after Presley purchased the music of African American Otis Blackwell and had his "Gladys Music" company hire talented black songwriter Claude Demetrius, the industry underwent a dramatic change. In the spring of 1957 Presley invited African American performer Ivory Joe Hunter to visit Graceland and the two spent the day together, singing "I Almost Lost My Mind" and other songs. Of Presley, Hunter commented, "He showed me every courtesy, and I think he's one of the greatest."
However, certain elements in American society began to simply dismiss Presley as no more than a racist Southerner who stole black music, but in the words of Black R&B artist Jackie Wilson, "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."
"Racists attacked rock and roll because of the mingling of black and white people it implied and achieved, and because of what they saw as black music's power to corrupt through vulgar and animalistic rhythms. ... The popularity of Elvis Presley was similarly founded on his transgressive position with respect to racial and sexual boundaries. ... White cover versions of hits by black musicians ... often outsold the originals; it seems that many Americans wanted black music without the black people in it," and Elvis had undoubtedly "derived his style from the Negro rhythm-and-blues performers of the late 1940's."
"Many White people would be surprised to learn that Elvis Presley's hit 'Hound Dog' was first popularized by a Black woman, Big Mama Thornton, (but it was written by the white songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller). Elvis and his music live on the collective memory of Whites, yet Little Richard, some of whose work Elvis borrowed, has been forgotten." A southern background combined with a performing style largely associated with African Americans had led to "bitter criticism by those who feel he stole a good thing," as Tan magazine surmised. No wonder that Elvis became "a symbol of all that was oppressive to the black experience in the Western Hemisphere". What is more, Presley was widely believed to have said, "The only thing black people can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records." It was claimed that the alleged comment was made either in Boston or on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person. A black southerner in the late 1980s even captured that sentiment: "To talk to Presley about blacks was like talking to Adolph Hitler about the Jews."
In his scholarly work Race, Rock, and Elvis, Tennessee State University professor Michael T. Bertrand examined the relationship between popular culture and social change in America and these allegations against Presley. Professor Bertrand postulated that Presley's rock and roll music brought an unprecedented access to African American culture that challenged the 1950's segregated generation to reassess ingrained segregationist stereotypes. The American Historical Review wrote that the author "convincingly argues that the black-and-white character of the sound, as well as Presley's own persona, helped to relax the rigid colour line and thereby fed the fires of the civil rights movement." The U.S. government report stated: "Presley has been accused of "stealing" black rhythm and blues, but such accusations indicate little knowledge of his many musical influences." "However much Elvis may have 'borrowed' from black blues performers (e.g., 'Big Boy' Crudup, 'Big Mama' Thornton), he borrowed no less from white country stars (e.g., Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe) and white pop singers (e.g., Mario Lanza, Dean Martin)," and most of his borrowings came from the church; its gospel music was his primary musical influence and foundation."
"A danger to American culture"
By the spring of 1956, Presley was fast becoming a national phenomenon and teenagers came to his concerts in unprecedented numbers. When he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair in 1956, 100 National Guardsmen surrounded the stage to control crowds of excited fans. The singer was considered to represent a threat to the moral well-being of young American women. The Roman Catholic Church denounced him in its weekly magazine in an article headlined "Beware Elvis Presley."
In an interview with PBS television, social historian Eric Lott said, "all the citizens' councils in the South called Elvis 'nigger music' and were terribly afraid that Elvis, white as he was, being ambiguously raced just by being working-class, was going to corrupt the youth of America." Robert Kaiser says he was the first who gave the people "a music that hit them where they lived, deep in their emotions, yes, even below their belts. Other singers had been doing this for generations, but they were black." Therefore, his performance style was frequently criticized. Social guardians blasted anyone responsible for exposing impressionable teenagers to his "gyrating figure and suggestive gestures." The Louisville chief of police, for instance, called for a no-wiggle rule to halt "any lewd, lascivious contortions that would excite the crowd." Even Priscilla Presley confirms that "his performances were labeled obscene. My mother stated emphatically that he was 'a bad influence for teenage girls. He arouses things in them that shouldn't be aroused.'"
According to rhythm and blues artist Hank Ballard, "In white society, the movement of the butt, the shaking of the leg, all that was considered obscene. Now here's this white boy that's grinding and rolling his belly and shaking that notorious leg. I hadn't even seen the black dudes doing that." Presley complained bitterly in a June 27, 1956, interview about being singled out as “obscene”. Due to his controversial style of song and stage performances, municipal politicians began denying permits for Presley appearances. This caused teens to pile into cars and travel elsewhere to see him perform. Adult programmers announced they would not play Presley's music on their radio stations due to religious convictions that his music was "devil music" and to racist beliefs that it was "nigger music." Many of Presley's records were condemned as wicked by Pentecostal preachers, warning congregations to keep heathen rock and roll music out of their homes and away from their children's ears (especially the music of "that backslidden Pentecostal pup.") However, the economic power of Presley's fans became evident when they tuned in alternative radio stations playing his records. In an era when radio stations were shifting to an all-music format, in reaction to competition from television, profit-conscious radio station owners learned quickly when sponsors bought more advertising time on new all "rock and roll" stations, some of which reached enormous markets at night with clear channel signals from AM broadcasts.
In August, 1956 in Jacksonville, Florida a local Juvenile Court judge called Presley a " savage" and threatened to arrest him if he shook his body while performing at Jacksonville's Florida Theatre, justifying the restrictions by saying his music was undermining the youth of America. Throughout the performance, Presley stood still as ordered but poked fun at the judge by wiggling a finger. Similar attempts to stop his "sinful gyrations" continued for more than a year and included his often-noted January 6, 1957 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (during which he performed the spiritual number "Peace in the Valley"), when he was filmed only from the waist up.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, "it was Elvis who made rock 'n' roll the international language of pop." A PBS documentary described Presley as "an American music giant of the 20th century who singlehandedly changed the course of music and culture in the mid-1950s." His recordings, dance moves, attitude and clothing came to be seen as embodiments of rock and roll. His music was heavily influenced by African-American blues, Christian gospel, and Southern country.
Presley sang both hard driving rockabilly, rock and roll dance songs and ballads, laying a commercial foundation upon which other rock musicians would build their careers. African-American performers like Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Chuck Berry came to national prominence after Presley's acceptance among mass audiences of White American teenagers. Singers like Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and others immediately followed in his wake. John Lennon later observed, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."
During the post-WWII economic boom of the 1950s, many parents were able to give their teenage children much higher weekly allowances, signaling a shift in the buying power and purchasing habits of American teens. During the 1940s bobby soxers had idolized Frank Sinatra, but the buyers of his records were mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. Presley triggered a juggernaut of demand for his records by near-teens and early teens aged ten and up. Along with Presley's " ducktail" haircut, the demand for black slacks and loose, open-necked shirts resulted in new lines of clothing for teenage boys whereas a girl might get a pink portable 45 rpm record player for her bedroom. Meanwhile American teenagers began buying newly available portable transistor radios and listened to rock 'n' roll on them (helping to propel that fledgling industry from an estimated 100,000 units sold in 1955 to 5,000,000 units by the end of 1958). Teens were asserting more independence and Presley became a national symbol of their parents' consternation.
Presley's impact on the American youth consumer market was noted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on December 31, 1956 when business journalist Louis M. Kohlmeier wrote, "Elvis Presley today is a business," and reported on the singer's record and merchandise sales. Half a century later, historian Ian Brailsford ( University of Auckland, New Zealand) commented, "The phenomenal success of Elvis Presley in 1956 convinced many doubters of the financial opportunities existing in the youth market." Elvis even became very popular to British audiences as well.
On December 20, 1957, Presley received his draft board notice for his mandatory service in the United States Army. He was worried that his absence in the public eye for 2 years, while serving in the Army, might end his career. Even more worried were Hal Wallis and Paramount who already spent $350,000 on pre-production of Presley's latest film King Creole and they feared of suspending the project or worse canceling it. Fortunately, the Memphis Draft Board granted Wallis and Colonel Parker a deferment until March 20 so Presley could complete his film project. On 24 March 1958, Presley joined his unit, 1st Battalion, US 32nd Armored Regiment and was posted to Germany.
While serving in Germany, Presley met his wife-to-be, the 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, and also the noted International Herald Tribune correspondent and humorist Art Buchwald, future US Secretary of State Colin Powell (then a lieutenant with the Third Army Division in Germany), and Walter Alden, the father of Presley's fiancee Ginger Alden who inducted Presley into the Army.
His rankings and dates of promotions were as follows: Private (upon draft March 24, 1958); Private First Class (November 27, 1958); Specialist Fourth Class (June 1, 1959); and Sergeant (January 20, 1960). While in the Army, he earned sharpshooter badges for both the .45 pistol and the M1 rifle, and a marksman badge for the M2 carbine, as well as a Good Conduct Medal.
Presley returned to the United States on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant (E-5) on March 5. One of his post-discharge photos shows him wearing dress blues with the grade of Staff Sergeant (E-6), but this was a tailor's error.
After serving his duty in the military, he became more mature and lost his raw and rebellious edge. However, he gained respect from older and more conservative crowds who initially disliked him before he entered the Army.
1960s film career
Presley admired the style of Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Tony Curtis and returned from the military eager to make a career as a movie star. Although "he was definitely not the most talented actor around", he "became a film genre of his own." Pop film staples of the early sixties, such as the Presley musicals and the AIP beach movies were mainly produced for a teenage audience and called by film critics a "pantheon of bad taste". In the sixties, at Colonel Parker's command, Presley withdrew from concerts and television appearances, with the exception of a charity concert (Pearl Harbour, 1961) and a TV appearance with Frank Sinatra on NBC entitled "Welcome Home Elvis" where he sang "Witchcraft/Love Me Tender" with Sinatra. From then on it was full-time movies. "He blamed his fading popularity on his humdrum movies," Priscilla Presley recalled in her 1985 autobiography, Elvis and Me. "He loathed their stock plots and short shooting schedules. He could have demanded better, more substantial scripts, but he didn't." According to most critics, the scripts of the movies "were all the same, the songs progressively worse." The latter were "written on order by men who never really understood Elvis or rock and roll." For Blue Hawaii and its soundtrack LP, "fourteen songs were cut in just three days." Julie Parrish, starring in Paradise, Hawaiian Style, says that Presley hated such songs and that he "couldn't stop laughing while he was recording" one of them.
Although some film critics chastised these movies for their lack of depth, the fans turned out and they were enormously profitable. According to Jerry Hopkins's book, Elvis in Hawaii, Presley's "pretty-as-a-postcard movies" even "boosted the new state's (Hawaii) tourism. Some of his most enduring and popular songs came from those movies." Altogether, Presley had made 27 movies during the 1960s, "which had grossed about $130 million, and he had sold a hundred million records, which had made $150 million." Overall, he was one of the highest paid Hollywood actors during the 1960s. However, during the later sixties, "the Elvis Presley film was becoming passé. Young people were tuning in, dropping out and doing acid. Musical acts like the Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, the Doors, Janis Joplin and many others were dominating the airwaves. Elvis Presley was not considered as cool as he once was."
Presley's star had increasingly faded over the 1960s as he made his movies and America was struck by changing styles and tastes after the "British Invasion" spearheaded by the Beatles.
Until the late sixties Presley continued to star in many B-movies that, although profitable, featured soundtracks that were of increasingly lower quality. Chart statistics for the summer of 1968 show that his recording career was floundering badly. He had apparently become deeply dissatisfied with the direction his career had taken over the ensuing seven years, most notably the film contracts with a demanding schedule that eliminated creative recording and giving public concerts. This lead to a triumphant televised performance later dubbed the '68 Comeback Special, aired on the NBC television network on December 3, 1968, and released as an album by RCA. Although the Special featured big, lavish production numbers (not dissimilar to those in his movies), it also featured intimate and emotionally charged live sessions that saw him return to his rock and roll roots (he had not performed live since the Pearl Harbour concert of 1961). Rolling Stone magazine called it "a performance of emotional grandeur and historical resonance." Presley was greatly assisted in the success of the '68 Comeback by the fact that the director and co-producer, Steve Binder, worked hard to make sure the show was not just a selection of Christmas songs, as Presley's manager had originally planned.
The comeback of 1968 was followed by a 1969 return to live performances, first in Las Vegas and then across the United States. The return concerts were noted for the constant stream of sold-out shows, with many setting attendance records in the venues where he performed.
Two concert films were also released: Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) and Elvis on Tour (1972).
The final years
After seven years off the top of the charts, Presley's song " Suspicious Minds" hit number one on the Billboard music charts on November 1, 1969. He also reached number one on charts elsewhere: " In the Ghetto" did so in West Germany in 1969 and "The Wonder of You" did so in the UK in 1970.
The " Aloha from Hawaii" concert in January 1973 was the first of its kind to be broadcast worldwide via satellite and was seen by at least one billion viewers worldwide. The RCA soundtrack album to the show reached number-one in the charts.
Presley recorded a number of country hits in his final years. Way Down was languishing in the American Country Music chart shortly before his death in 1977, and reached number one the week after his death. It also topped the UK pop charts at the same time.
Between 1969 and 1977 Presley gave over 1,000 sold-out performances in Las Vegas and on tour. He was the first artist to have four shows in a row sold to capacity crowds at New York's Madison Square Garden.
From 1971 to his death in 1977 Presley employed the Stamps Quartet, a gospel group, for his backup vocals. He recorded several gospel albums, earning three Grammy Awards for his gospel music. In his later years his live stage performances almost always included a rendition of How Great Thou Art, the 19th century gospel song made famous by George Beverly Shea. Although some critics say that the singer travestied, commercialized and soft-soaped gospel "to the point where it became nauseating.", twenty-four years after his death, the Gospel Music Association inducted him into its Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001).
After his divorce in 1973 Presley became increasingly isolated, overweight, and was battling an addiction to prescription drugs which took a heavy toll on his appearance, health, and performances. He made his last live concert appearance in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.
Death and burial
On August 16, 1977, at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, Presley was found lying on the floor of his bedroom's bathroom by his fiancee, Ginger Alden, who had been asleep. A stain on the bathroom carpeting was found that indicated "where Elvis had thrown up after being stricken, apparently while seated on the toilet. It looked to the medical investigator as if he had 'stumbled or crawled several feet before he died.' " He was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where at 3:30 P.M. doctors pronounced him dead. Presley was 42 years old.
At a press conference following his death, one of the medical examiners declared that he had died of a cardiac arrhythmia from an intake of a large amount of drugs.
Rolling Stone magazine devoted an entire issue to Presley (RS 248) and his funeral was a national media event. Hundreds of thousands of Presley fans, the press, and celebrities lined the street to witness Presley's funeral and Jackie Cahane gave the eulogy.
Presley was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis next to his mother. After an attempted theft of the body, his remains and his mother's remains were moved to Graceland to the "meditation gardens."
Following Presley's death in 1977, US President Jimmy Carter said, "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."
Views on race
In 1956, a Boston reporter said that Elvis had said, "the only thing niggers can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes." The claim has since been proved untrue (in part by the fact that Elvis was never in Boston until 1971), but it remains a popular urban legend.
As early as 1956, he sponsored an All-Negro Day at the Memphis Zoo. In the '50s, a DJ refused to interview Elvis because he was a "nigger-lover". Elvis told guitarist Scotty Moore, "Go tell that son of a bitch, I'm damn proud to be a nigger lover!"
He had close friendships with B.B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali. After Jackie Wilson went into a coma in the '70s, Elvis supported his family financially.
Elvis requested to meet Martin Luther King in the mid-60s, but never got the opportunity. His song " If I Can Dream" is partly about King's assassination. Elvis later quoted part of King's I Have A Dream speech on stage.
Elvis was accompanied on stage by The Sweet Inspirations from 1969 until his death. Once, while in Texas, the owner of a venue refused to allow them to go on stage because, he didn't "allow niggers in my arena". Elvis replied, "No Sweets, no Elvis." He also told a fan once to take a Confederate flag down from a balcony at a concert and replace it with the American flag.
Not much has been written about Elvis's political views. In the early 1960s he described himself as an admirer of the Democratic President John F. Kennedy. In 1970 however he wrote to J. Edgar Hoover requesting to join the FBI at the height of its campaign against political activism. Most people were shocked at this, but his fans had mixed emotions. They wanted their hero making new movies and songs, but they were happy that Elvis had his feet firmly on the ground. In December of that year he met with President Richard Nixon. According to the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, the photograph of President Nixon's meeting with Presley in the Oval Office is the most requested image in the history of the U.S. Government.
It is known that Elvis supported Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 election. Elvis also supported John F. Kennedy in 1960 and reportedly cried when he learned of his death. There is a picture of Elvis with President Johnson, who he met in 1965. Elvis also supported Robert Kennedy in the 1968 election until his assassination. Between 1968 and 1970, Elvis recorded several political songs including If I Can Dream, In The Ghetto, Change Of Habit, and Walk A Mile In My Shoes. He also starred in the political film Change Of Habit. Elvis also met and became friends with John Lennon and Bob Dylan in the '60s.
In the 1970s he was a strong supporter of Republican President Richard Nixon and even met him in the White House. In a letter that Presley wrote to Nixon, requesting that they should meet, Presley told the President he was a huge admirer of everything he was doing, and asked to be made a "Federal Agent at Large" in order to help get the country off drugs. Nixon duly made Presley a "Federal Agent at large" in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, presenting him with the appropriate badge. Extraordinarily, Presley was likewise able to present Nixon with a gift of a Colt .45 handgun in the Oval Office. Although it probably has no relevance to his political beliefs, Elvis also met future President George H.W. Bush at an awards banquet.
Nothing is known of Elvis's views on Gerald Ford, but Elvis became a friend of Democratic President Jimmy Carter when he was Governor of Georgia. After Carter was elected to the Presidency, Elvis called him on the telephone at the White House several times. When Presley died in August 1977, "Carter said, 'He was unique and irreplaceable. He burst on the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled.' "
Devotion to his mother
The first woman in Presley's life was his mother Gladys. In a newspaper interview with The Memphis Press Scimitar, Elvis himself was open about the close relationship to his mother. "She was the number-one girl in his life, and he was dedicating his career to her." Throughout her life, "the son would call her by pet names", and they communicated by baby talk. Presley even shared his mother's bed "up until Elvis was a young teen." According to Elaine Dundy, "it was agony for her to leave her child even for a moment with anyone else, to let anyone else touch Elvis." His father still openly talked about Elvis' close relationship to his mother after his son had become famous. When his mother died, Elvis was "sobbing and crying hysterically", and eye-witnesses relate that he was "grieving almost constantly" for days.
High school and early stardom
Presley's early experiences being teased by his fellow classmates for being a "mama's boy" had a deep influence on his clumsy advances to girls. He didn't have any friends as a teen. Beginning in his early teens, Presley embarked upon the "indefatigable pursuit of girls", but was totally rebuffed. At school, anyone "wishing to provoke a little girl to tears of rage had only to chalk "Elvis loves -" and then the girl's name on the blackboard when the teacher was out of the room." Presley's first sweetheart was the fifteen-year-old Dixie Locke, whom the singer dated steadily since graduating from Humes and during his Sun Records time. While still a rising star, Presley also had a relationship with June Juanico, who is said to have been the only girl his mother ever approved of, but according to Juanico's own words, she "never had sex with Presley." However, since the singer's death many claims to relationships have been made by women who were no more than acquaintances or had short affairs which were exaggerated for personal gain. Juanico even blames Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, for encouraging Presley to go out with beautiful women only "for the publicity". Between 1954 and 1956, when his stardom began to rise, Presley became the subject of adulation and adoration of young Hollywood starlets such as Natalie Wood, Judy Tyler, Shelley Fabares, and Connie Stevens. His mother believed that Wood was a schemer who hoped to "snare" the singer only "for publicity purposes." When a columnist wanted to know if the romance with Presley was "serious," Natalie's cool answer was, "Not right now." "But who knows what will happen?" One of her judgments of Elvis was, "He can sing but he can't do much else."
The women in his life
Several authors have written that "Elvis busied his evenings with various girlfriends" or that his "list of one-night stands would fill volumes." According to eyewitness Byron Raphael, who worked for Presley's manager Parker, the star even had a secret one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe in a hotel room. However, it is unclear whether the "sex symbol" actually had sex with most of the women he dated. His early girlfriends Judy Spreckels and June Juanico say that they had no sexual relationships with Presley. Raphael and Alanna Nash have stated that the star "would never put himself inside one of these girls..." Peggy Lipton claims that he was "virtually impotent" with her. She attributed his impotence to his heavy drug abuse. Cassandra Peterson, better known as "Elvira', says she knew Presley for only one night and all they did was talk. Priscilla Presley and Suzanne Finstad also claim that the singer wasn't overtly sexually active. These claims, however, are directly contradicted by comments from actresses like Cybill Shepherd, who acknowledged her affair with the singer. In her memoir, Ann-Margret (Presley's co-star in Viva Las Vegas) refers to Presley as her "soulmate", but very little is revealed about their long-rumored romance, only that "in a moment of tenderness" he bought her a round bed in hot pink colors. On the other hand, Elvis dated many female co-stars from his movies primarily for publicity purposes. Lori Williams and the singer, for instance, went together for a while "between the making of Roustabout and Kissin' Cousins." She says their "courtship was not some bizarre story. It was very sweet and Elvis was the perfect gentleman." She also claims that Ann-Margret "was the love of his life." Significantly, there was a great publicity campaign about the romance between Elvis and Ann-Margret during the 1963 filming of Viva Las Vegas and the following weeks, which helped to increase the popularity of the young Hollywood beauty. Margret remained close to Presley for the remainder of his life and also attended his funeral. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of books (including both of Guralnick's books) on Presley contain details of his many romances and alleged affairs including many while he was married to Priscilla. Guralnick writes that for "the more experienced girls it wasn't like with other Hollywood stars or even with other more sophisticated boys they knew." Although they offered to do things for Presley, "he wasn't really interested."
Anita Wood and Priscilla Beaulieu
Anita Wood, another girl whom the singer's mother hoped Presley would eventually marry, was with him as he rose to superstardom, served in the US military and returned home in 1960. If he was planning to marry a girl he wanted her to remain a virgin. Anita Wood lived at Graceland for a time, though the star, according to his own words, didn't make love to her. She moved out after confronting him over Priscilla Beaulieu. Presley had met Beaulieu in Germany while stationed there with the U.S. Army. She was only 14 years old when the singer began dating her. At that time, he even had a younger girl living in his house. Therefore, some authors such as Albert Goldman went as far as to call Presley a "pedophile" who dated girls in their early teens.
Presley and Beaulieu were married on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas, Nevada and daughter Lisa Marie was born nine months later on February 1, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. After five years of marriage Presley and Beaulieu separated on February 23, 1972, agreeing to share custody of their daughter.
The Memphis Mafia and other male friends
Apart from his relationships with women, Presley had many male friends. He reportedly spent day and night with friends and employees whom the news media affectionately dubbed the Memphis Mafia. Among them were Sonny West, Red West, Billy Smith, Marty Lacker and Lamar Fike. Gerald Marzorati says that Elvis "couldn't go anywhere else without a phalanx of boyhood friends." Even the girls he dated deplored, "Whenever you were with Elvis for the most part you were with his entourage. Those guys were always around..." According to Peter Guralnick, for Elvis and the guys " Hollywood was just an open invitation to party all night long. Sometimes they would hang out with Sammy Davis, Jr., or check out Bobby Darin at the Cloister. Nick Adams and his gang came by the suite all the time, not to mention the eccentric actor Billy Murphy ..." Samuel Roy says that "Elvis' bodyguards, Red and Sonny West and Dave Hebler, apparently loved Elvis—especially Red ... ; these bodyguards showed loyalty to Elvis and demonstrated it in the ultimate test. When bullets were apparently fired at Elvis in Las Vegas, the bodyguards threw themselves in front of Elvis, forming a shield to protect him." According to Presley expert Elaine Dundy, "Of all Elvis' new friends, Nick Adams, by background and temperament the most insecure, was also his closest." All of the singer's friendships are documented by many photographs.
By 1957 Presley was the most famous entertainer in the world. After pioneer band leader Bill Haley spawned interest in rock and roll in Western Europe, Presley's records triggered a wide shift in tastes with effects lasting many decades. Singers in dozens of countries made Presley-influenced recordings in many languages and his own records were sold around the globe, even behind the former Iron Curtain. By 1958 Cliff Richard, the so-called "British Elvis", was rising to prominence in the UK, and in France Johnny Hallyday, known as the "Elvis of France", became a rock and roll idol singing in French, soon to be followed by others like Claude François and, in Italy, by Adriano Celentano and Bobby Solo, all of whom were heavily influenced by Presley's early style. Later, as his first movies were shown throughout the world, Presley-mannered stage performers and singers appeared everywhere, from Latin America to Asia, the Middle East, and even in some parts of Africa. Airplay and sales of Presley recordings across Europe were followed by those of other American rockers who began touring there. Teenagers around the world copied his " ducktail" hair style.
For the next 21 years, until he died, Presley's singing style, mannerisms and look continued to be imitated with surprising regularity, wherever his image, songs, or movies happened to be shown, regardless of major shifts in popular culture, music, and manner of dress, all of which he had helped influence in the first place. But it was only after his death that an industry built itself around him. Many people of every race, creed and nationality taking up a career as professional Elvis impersonators — or Elvis Tribute Artists (ETAs) as they now prefer to be called.
Conversely, a parallel industry, mostly kitsch, continues to grow around his memory, chronicling his dietary and chemical predilections along with the trappings of his wide celebrity. Many impersonators still sing his songs. "While some of the impersonators perform a whole range of Presley music, the raw 1950s Elvis and the kitschy 1970s Elvis are the favorites."
Among his many accomplishments, Presley is only one of four artists ( Roy Orbison, Guns N' Roses and Nelly being the others) to ever have two top five albums on the charts simultaneously.
He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1998), and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001).
In 1993, Presley's image appeared on a United States postage stamp.
Upon announcing that Presley's home, the Graceland Mansion, was being designated as a National Historic Landmark, U.S Interior Secretary Gale Norton noted on 27 March 2006, that “It didn’t take Americans and the rest of the world long to discover Elvis Presley; and it is clear they will never forget him. His popularity continues to thrive nearly 29 years after his passing, with each new generation connecting with him in a significant way.”
The Elvis cult and its critics
It has been claimed that there are over 500 US fan clubs and that they exist in every state except three: North Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming. According to the American Demographics magazine, 84% of the US people say that their lives have been touched by Elvis Presley in some way, 70% have watched a movie starring Presley, 44% have danced to one of his songs, 31% have bought an Elvis record, CD or video, 10% have visited Graceland, 9% have bought Elvis memorabilia, 9% have read a book about Presley, and 5% have seen the singer in concert. Not all of these people are Presley fans.
A collection of essays entitled The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media critically examines what distinguishes fans from general audiences and explores the relationship between fans and their adored media products. Part of this volume is the article, "Fandom and Gender" which includes an examination of female fantasies of Presley. To many of his female fans, the songs Presley sang "were secondary to his personality and the way he performed them," evoking the well-known emotional responses. In her autobiographical article, "Sexing Elvis" (1984), Sue Wise even describes "how she came to terms with her lesbianism through a close identification with the feminine side of the King."
"Elvis's 'effect' on young girls threatened those men who assumed that young girls needed to be protected both from sex in general and from its expression in questionable characters like Elvis in particular." However, there were not only female fantasies directed at the star. According to Reina Lewis and Peter Horne, "prints of Elvis Presley appeared to speak directly to the gay community."
"Perhaps it is an error of enthusiasm to freight Elvis Presley with too heavy a historical load", as, according to a public opinion poll among high school students in 1957, Pat Boone was "the nearly two-to-one favorite over Elvis Presley among boys and preferred almost three-to-one by girls"; yet, Presley "clearly outshines the other performers in rocknroll's first pantheon." This poll should, however, be taken with a grain of salt as Presley had significantly more record sales than Pat Boone.
The ritualization of the "Elvis cult"
There can be no doubt that it was primarily "the recording industry, which made Elvis Presley a mythical media demigod." On August 16, thousands of die-hard Elvis fans travel to Graceland every year in order to celebrate the anniversary of Presley's death. The ritualization of the Elvis cult is also manifested most prominently through the many live performances by Elvis impersonators. According to Marjorie Garber, "The phenomenon of 'Elvis impersonators,' which began long before the singer's death, is one of the most startling effects of the Elvis cult.
What is more, David S. Wall has shown that many authors who are writing books and articles on Presley are part of a "worldwide Elvis industry" which has a tendency towards supporting primarily a favorable view of the star. The content of the majority of these publications can be characterized as based on gossip about gossip, only occasionally providing some new surprising details. There are not many critical, unfavorable publications on Elvis's life. An example is Albert Goldman's controversial biography, Elvis (1981), in which the author unfavorably discusses the star's weight problems, his performing costumes and his sex life. Such books are frequently disparaged and harshly attacked by Elvis fan groups. Professor Wall has pointed out that one of the strategies of the various fan clubs and appreciation societies to which the bulk of Elvis fans belong is " 'community policing' to achieve governance at a distance... These organisations have, through their membership magazines, activities and sales operations, created a powerful moral majority" endeavoring to suppress most critical voices. "With a combined membership of millions, the fans form a formidable constituency of consumer power."
According to David Lowenthal, "Everything from Disneyland to the Holocaust Museum, ... from Elvis memorabilia to the Elgin Marbles bears the marks of the cult of heritage." "When it's an exhibition of Elvis memorabilia," even Marilyn Houlberg, professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, "puts on the campy art-world hat and becomes a priestess of the Elvis cult." Paul A. Cantor goes as far as to call the American Presley cult "a postmodern simulacrum of the German Hitler cult." Some fan groups even refuse to accept the fact of the star's death in 1977 (see the "Elvis lives?" section of this article).
In his book Elvis after Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend (1996), Gilbert Rodman traces in detail Presley's manifestations in contemporary popular and not-so-popular culture. He draws upon the many Elvis "sightings," from Elvis's appearances at the heart of the 1992 presidential campaign to the debate over his worthiness as a subject for a postage stamp, and from Elvis's central role in furious debates about racism and the appropriation of African-American music to the world of Elvis impersonators and the importance of Graceland as a place of pilgrimage for fans and followers. The author further points out that Presley has become inseparable from many of the defining myths of US culture, enmeshed with the American Dream and the very idea of the "United States," caught up in debates about race, gender, and sexuality, and in the wars over what constitutes a national culture.
This Presley cult has been much criticized. "As one reader complained: I was really surprised that you used that article about the boring Elvis cult! You would use one on McDonald's?"
Indeed, there are not only positive voices concerning the singer and his life. During the early years of his career, Country blues guitarist Mississippi Slim constantly criticized Elvis. According to Jennifer Harrison, "Elvis faced criticism more often than appreciation" from a small town in South Memphis. "Much criticism has been heaped on Elvis, often perpetuated by squares, the Colonel, and others who controlled his creative (or not so creative) output, especially during the Hollywood years."
According to Robert A. Segal, Elvis was "a consummate mamma's boy, who lived his last twenty years as a recluse in a womblike, infantile world in which all of his wishes were immediately satisfied yet who deemed himself entirely normal, in fact 'all-American.'" When a CBS special on Presley was aired on October 3, 1977, shortly after the singer's death, it "received such harsh criticism that it is hard to imagine what the public response to Elvis's degeneration would have been if he had been alive." This special "only seemed to confirm the rumors of drug abuse."
In a recent study on the analogy of trash and rock 'n' roll, professor of English and drummer Steven Hamelman demonstrates that rock 'n' roll productions are often trash, that critics often trash rock 'n' roll productions, and that rock 'n' roll musicians often trash their lives. The author uses the tortured lives and premature deaths of Presley, John Lennon and Kurt Cobain in his section on "waste" in order to underscore the literal and figurative "waste" that, in his opinion, is part of rock 'n' roll.
However, one of the most frequent points of criticism is the overweight and androgyny of the late Las Vegas Presley. Time Out says that, "As Elvis got fatter, his shows got glammier." It has been said that the star, when he "returned to Las Vegas, heavier, in pancake makeup, wearing a white jumpsuit with an elaborate jeweled belt and cape, crooning pop songs to a microphone ... had become Liberace. Even his fans were now middle-aged matrons and blue-haired grandmothers, who praised him as a good son who loved his mother; Mother's Day became a special holiday for Elvis's fans." According to several modern gender studies, the singer had, like Liberace, presented "variations of the drag queen figure" in his final stages in Las Vegas, when he excessively used eye shadow, gold lamé suits and jumpsuits. Although described as a male sex symbol, Elvis was "insistently and paradoxically read by the culture as a boy, a eunuch, or a 'woman' – anything but a man," and in his Las Vegas white "Eagle" jumpsuit, designed by costumer Bill Belew, he appeared like "a transvestite successor to Marlene Dietrich." Indeed, Elvis had been "feminized", as Joel Foreman put it.
Thus, "Elvis' death did occur at a time when it could only help his reputation. Just before his death, Elvis had been forgotten by society." Except for the fans who held his memory in honour, he was chiefly "referred to as 'overweight and over-the-hill.'" After the singer's death, things changed. In their book When Elvis Died: A Chronicle of National and International Reaction to the Passing of an American King (1980), Neal and Janice Gregory documented through newspaper and television archives the reaction of the media to the spontaneous and unprecedented outpouring of public grief at Elvis' death. One reporter after another described scenes not witnessed since the death of Valentino. When President Jimmy Carter issued a public statement acknowledging Elvis' contribution to American life, he effected a turning point in our culture and the way the media reports on figures in show business. It could be argued that Elvis' death was the event that precipitated the media's dubious current obsession with celebrity. According to Curtis W. Ellision, "The most vivid anecdotes in When Elvis Died focus on the origins of the perpetual death memorial that Presley's home, Graceland, has become." The author adds that "Some anecdotes in the Gregory account reinforce the impression that Presley's death touched nostalgia for teenage years." In a later essay, Neal and Janice Gregory critically discuss the media attention on the subsequent Elvis religion as a means to discredit his fans. Indeed, after his death, Presley had been seen by fans as "Other Jesus" or "Saint Elvis".
Presley in the 21st century
Interest in Presley's recordings returned during the buildup to the 2002 World Cup, when Nike used a Junkie XL remixed version of his " A Little Less Conversation" (credited as "Elvis Vs JXL") as the background music to a series of TV commercials featuring international soccer stars. The remix hit number one in over 20 countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. At about the same time, a compilation of Presley's US and UK Number 1 hits, Elv1s: 30, was being prepared for release. "A Little Less Conversation" (remix version) was quickly added as the album's 31st track just before release in October 2002. Further stimulating popularity for the remixed "new" Elvis song, was the inclusion of Conversation into the opening credits of the NBC series Las Vegas; due to the large expense of such a song, however, home DVD sets of the TV show feature Conversation in the Pilot episode only. Nearly 50 years after Presley made his first hit record and 25 years after his death, the compilation reached number one on the charts in the US, the UK, Australia and many other countries. A re-release from it, " Burning Love" (not a remix), also made the Australian top 40 later in the year.
Presley's renewed fame continued with another remix in 2003 (this time by Paul Oakenfold) of "Rubberneckin'", which made the top three in Australia and top five in the UK. This was followed by another album called 2nd to None, a collection of his hits, including the "Rubberneckin'" remix, that just failed to reach number one.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary in mid-2004 of Presley's first professional recording, "That's All Right", it was re-released, and made the charts around the world, including top three in the UK and top 40 in Australia.
In early 2005 in the United Kingdom, RCA began to re-issue Presley's 18 UK number-one singles as CD-singles in the order they were originally released, one of them a week. The first of these re-issues, " All Shook Up", was ineligible to chart due to its being sold together with a collector's box which holds all 18 singles in it (it actually sold enough to be number two). The second, " Jailhouse Rock", was the number one in the first chart of 2005, and "One Night"/"I Got Stung", the third in the series, replaced it on the January 16 chart (and thus becoming the 1000th UK number one entry).
All of these have reached top five in the official charts. These re-releases have made Presley the only artist so far to spend at least 1000 weeks in the British top 40.
On the UK singles charts, Presley went to #1 the most times (21, three of them hitting #1 twice), spent the most weeks there (80), as well as had the most top tens and top forty hits. In the UK album charts, he is third (1,280 Weeks) to Queen (1,422 Weeks) and the Beatles (1,293 Weeks),as well as earning the most top ten, and top forty albums. Still in the album category, his longevity record boasts an almost fifty year gap between his first, and last hit album.
In total, he has spent 2,574 weeks in both the UK singles and album charts, way ahead of his closest competitors, namely Cliff Richard (1,982), Queen (1,755), the Beatles (1,749), and Madonna (1,660).
CBS recently aired a TV miniseries, Elvis starring Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Presley.
Shortly after taking over the management of all things Elvis from the Elvis Presley Estate (which retained a 15% stake in the new company, while keeping Graceland and the bulk of the possessions found therein), Robert Sillerman's CKX company produced a DVD and CD featuring Presley (titled "Elvis by the Presleys"), as well as an accompanying two-hour documentary broadcast on Viacom's CBS Network, which alone generated $5.5 million.
A channel on the Sirius Satellite Radio subscriber service is devoted to the life and music of Presley, with all broadcasts originating from Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.
In a list of the greatest English language singers of the 20th century, as compiled by BBC Radio, Presley was ranked second. The poll was topped by Frank Sinatra, with Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald also in the top ten.
In July of 2005, Presley edged out Oprah Winfrey to be named the Greatest Entertainer in American history in the Greatest American election conducted by the Discovery Channel and America Online.
In mid October of 2005, Variety named the top 100 entertainment icons of the 20th century, with Presley landing on the top ten, along with the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and Mickey Mouse.
A week later, Forbes magazine named Presley, for the fifth straight year, the top-earning dead celebrity, grossing US$45 million for the Presley estate during the period from October of 2004, to October 2005. Forbes pointed out that CKX spent $100 million in cash, and stock, for an 85% interest in Presley's income stream in February 2005.
In mid 2006, Forbes up-dated its list, with Presley ranking second, the top place being taken by Nirvana's frontman, Kurt Cobain, after the sale of 25% of his music publishing, which raked US$50 million for the singer's widow.
In November of 2006, Atlantic Magazine asked 10 prominent historians to name the 100 most influential Americans, with Presley (who ranked # 66), along with Louis Armstrong (79), being the only two musicians on the list.
There is a belief in some quarters that Presley did not die in 1977. Many fans persist in claiming he is still alive, that he went into hiding for various reasons. This claim is allegedly backed up by thousands of so-called Elvis sightings that have occurred in the years since his death. Critics of the notion state that a number of Presley impersonators can easily be mistaken for Presley and that the urban legend is merely the result of fans not wanting to accept his death.
Two main reasons are given in support of the belief that Presley faked his death:
- On his grave, his middle name Aron is misspelled as Aaron. Presley's parents went to great lengths to remove the double 'A' on his official birth certificate after his twin brother Jesse Garon was stillborn,
- "Hours after Presley's death was announced, a man by the name of Jon Burrows (Presley's traveling alias) purchased a one way ticket with cash to Buenos Aires."
Two tabloid newspapers, the Weekly World News and The Sun (both which are faux news, comedy papers), ran articles covering the continuing "life" of Presley after his death, in great detail, including a broken leg from a motorcycle accident, all the way up to his purported "real death" in the mid 1990s. However, since his "real death", the Weekly World News has continued to claim he is still alive, thus contradicting its initial story.
Both ETAs and the belief that Presley still lives figure into the story of Bubba Ho-tep, which features him living in a Texas nursing home after switching lives with an Elvis impersonator (Presley goes so far as to make a living "impersonating" himself). According to the movie, it was the impersonator who died in 1977, but the documentation of the switch was accidentally destroyed, preventing Presley from ever reclaiming his "real" life.
There was even a "television show about the life and death of Elvis Presley, called 'The Elvis File' " endeavoring to present " 'evidence' for the possibility that Elvis is still alive. Some people believe that they had seen 'the King', and handwriting experts declare that they have seen notes written by Presley after his demise. A background of spooky music accompanied all of the testimonies." Although "the evidence presented on that program was extremely weak," it convinced 79 percent of the viewers who casted their votes to believe Elvis is still alive. "The results ... offer only one of many examples of the credulity of Western people. ... That television program illustrates that we are weak in our ability to reason. It also offers a paradigm of the way in which many people in the general populace make up their minds. They hear a televised news report or talk show interview with an 'expert'. The expert supplies a few supporting 'facts,' so be proposition must be true."
FBI files on Presley
As Presley was a very popular star, the FBI had files on him of more than 600 pages. According to Thomas Fensch, the texts from the FBI reports dating from 1959 to 1981 represent a "microcosm [of Presley's] behind-the-scenes life." For instance, the FBI was interested in death threats made against the singer, the likelihood of Elvis being the victim of blackmail and particularly a "major extortion attempt" while he was in the Army in Germany, complaints about his public performances, a paternity suit, the theft by larceny of an executive jet which he owned and the alleged fraud surrounding a 1955 Corvette which he owned, and similar things.
Elvis as a victim of blackmail
According to one of the FBI accounts, Presley was the victim of blackmailer Laurens Johannes Griessel-Landau of Johannesburg, South Africa, who was hired by the singer in Bad Nauheim, Germany, as an alleged specialist in the field of dermatology, but, according to Presley, had made homosexual passes at the singer's friends. When on 24 December 1959 Presley decided to discontinue the skin treatments, Griessel-Landau "threatened to expose Presley by photographs and tape recordings which are alleged to present Presley in compromising situations." Information concerning the subject was furnished to the FBI "by the Provost Marshal Division, Hqs., U.S. Army, Europe, with the indication that they wished to avoid any publicity in this matter." An investigation determined that Griessel-Landau was not a medical doctor. Finally, "By negotiation, Presley agreed to pay Griessel-Landau $200.00 for treatments received and also to furnish him with a $315.00 plane fare to London, England." After having "demanded an additional $250.00, which Presley paid" and a further "telephonic demand for 2,000 £ for the loss of his practice which he closed in Johannesburg", the blackmailer departed to England.
- For a detailed discography, see: Elvis Presley discography.
- For a list of Presley's singles, see: Elvis Presley hit singles.
- For a list of all of his songs, see: Alphabetical list of all of Elvis Presley's songs.
- Has won three Grammy awards, all for his gospel recordings. These were for the 1967 "How Great Thou Art" LP, for the 1972 LP, "He Touched Me" and, in 1974, for the song "How Great Thou Art" (live).
- Billboard historian Joel Whitburn declared Presley the "#1 act of the Rock era", beating out The Beatles, based upon his dominance of Billboard's list of top 100 singles artists since 1955.
- He was offered the lead role of Tony in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical West Side Story. Despite Presley's arguments that it would legitimize his acting career, "Colonel" Parker forced Presley to turn it down thinking that it was non-commercial. The film won ten Academy Awards including Best Picture.
- When Presley was drafted into the US Army in March 1958, his monthly pay went from $100,000 to $78.
- Presley's estate earns over 40 million dollars every year which is a record for a deceased entertainer.
- In 2005, for the fifth year straight, Presley was named the richest deceased celebrity in www.Forbes.com. In 2006, he's in the number two spot after Kurt Cobain of Nirvana fame. (see also preceding section entitled, "Presley in the 21st Century")
- Presley was an avid practitioner of Kenpo karate, studying under both legendary instructor Ed Parker and Parker's protégé Mike Stone. The latter would take a romantic interest in Priscilla Presley, eventually being among the causes of the couple's divorce. Presley was known to have attained at least a seventh-degree black belt in the martial art.
- Presley was an honorary member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
- His hair was a natural sandy brown but he dyed it jet black after filming "Love Me Tender."
- Cryolophosaurus was at one point nicknamed 'Elvisaurus' because of its head crest being similar to Presley's hairstyle.
- His given middle name at birth was Aron; however, Aaron was placed on his gravestone by his father because Presley preferred that biblical spelling and had legally changed it. Aaron is the official spelling used by his estate.
- A number of people the world over are named after Presley, many of them becoming quite well known themselves: Elvis Stojko, a Canadian who was the three-time World Figure Skating Champion; Elvis Crespo, a salsa and meringue musician; Elvis Dumervil, a former University of Louisville All American football player, now with the Denver Broncos; Elvis Perkins, a musician who is the son of actor Anthony Perkins; and Elvis Polansky, son of movie director Roman Polanski.
- Musician Elvis Costello adopted Presley's first name a few months before Presley's death in 1977.
- The 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie is a satire about the effects of the compulsory U.S. military draft on a famous singer similar to Presley.
- Kirsty MacColl's 1981 song "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" is a reference to all the unusual sightings in the United Kingdom of the singer.
- Presley had a short mention in the S.E. Hinton classic, The Outsiders.
- In the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, one of the narrator Alex's "droogs" (friends) wears an Elvis Presley mask, when they go out on crime sprees.
- The Broadway musical All Shook Up features the songs of Presley, and is based on the plot of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
- Freddie Mercury wrote the song " Crazy Little Thing Called Love" as a tribute to Presley. The song remained in the #1 position on the U.S. charts for four weeks in 1980.
- Wink Martindale, who was a close friend of Presley, aired a nationwide tribute in his memory following the news of his death. Martindale was an up-and-coming radio DJ in Memphis at the time Presley's career began to take off in high gear.
- Richard Dawson also paid tribute to Presley on an episode of Family Feud.
- The 2002 Disney animated feature Lilo and Stitch contains more Presley songs than there are in several movies in which Presley himself starred. The film's closing sequence also features a montage of photographs, one of which portrays the film's main characters posing before the gates of Graceland. The film also broke several rules related to Presley in films which included using his photo, shortening his songs for time and dressing up like him. However, the Graceland estate allowed the producers this degree of freedom.
- In December 2004 Wade Jones from Belmont, NC sold 3 tablespoons of water from a cup from which Presley drank on eBay. The water fetched $455. One week later (January 2005), he sold an appearance of the Elvis Cup on eBay for $3,000 and currently tours with the Elvis Cup, which even has its own song "The Elvis Cup" written and recorded by a Filipino Elvis impersonator, "Renelvis". Jones says he scored the Styrofoam cup at a 1977 concert the King played. Hoping for a better souvenir, he ended up getting a cup out of which he saw Presley drink.
- The UK-based "Doctor Who Adventures" magazine published a list of the top ten historical figures people would most like to travel back in time to meet; Presley ranked 2nd, behind Sir Winston Churchill. Others in the top ten included, in ranking order, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Diana, Princess of Wales, Nelson Mandela, Isaac Newton and Queen Elizabeth I .
- The Chinese tend to nickname him The King of Cats ( Traditional: 貓王, Simplified: 猫王, Pinyin:Māo Wáng) after the "hillbilly cat" remark in The Memphis Press Scimitar interview. (See: Devotion to his Mother)
- In Soul Calibur, the character Maxi bears a distinct resemblance to Presley and is a martial artist like him.
- The Thai film Killer Tattoo features a Thai assassin who insists that he is Elvis, and demands to be addressed in English, a language he does not speak.
- In Shaman King, Ryunosuke Umemiya dresses up like Elvis Presley and is a big fan of him.
- The cartoon character Johnny Bravo has a voice like that of Presley in addition to his resemblance to Presley's idol James Dean.
- Dread Zeppelin is an American band best known for covering the songs of Led Zeppelin in a reggae style, sung by an Elvis Presley impersonator.
- The Norwegian rock band Kaizers Orchestra has a stagehand who is dressed like Elvis, and he can be seen in the Viva La Vega DVD, coming out on stage several times to help with the instruments. Jackal Kaizer even encourages him to come out on stage for applause, insisting that "He's still working in the industry. He never left the building!" He goes on to insist that Elvis is assisting the band in their rise to stardom, and that they "wanted Roy Robertson" but were told that he was dead.
- In 1985 Bruce Springsteen, a longtime admirer of Elvis, released "Johnny Bye Bye" as the b-side to his single "I'm on Fire." The song pays tribute to Elvis and contains modified lyrics from a Chuck Berry song of a similar name.
- Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is a longtime Presley fan who has released a CD of his favorite Presley songs with his own commentary, He also helped finance a statue of the music pioneer and made a historical visit to Graceland in June 2006 with United States President George W. Bush.
Likes and dislikes
- Presley was a big fan of Captain Marvel Jr, and may have styled his trademark haircut after that of the comic book character. In addition, Presley's stage outfits (with a half-cape similar to those worn by the Marvels) and his TCB logo (with a Marvel-esque lightning bolt insignia) may also show inspiration from Captain Marvel, Jr.
- He was proud of his role in King Creole because the part was originally offered to his idol James Dean.
- His favorite roller coaster was the Zippin Pippin at Libertyland. He would rent out the park to himself just so he could ride it non-stop.
- Before signing to a major record label, Elvis was a young upstart who enjoyed engaging in " outsider" actions such as beating up those who he deemed to be " squares" and eating honey-roasted peanuts.
- One of Presley's favorite female singers was Anne Murray and he recorded a version of "Snowbird".
- One of his favorite songs was "Something" by George Harrison.
- His favorite film was Dr. Strangelove--he was a great fan of Peter Sellers.
- It is commonly known that Presley loved gospel music. The last record he listened to was a new album by JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, the group that accompanied him on stage. Their record was on Presley's record player in his bedroom on the day he died.
- Presley disliked being called "The King", saying that "there's only one King, and that's Jesus."
- Elvis loved his Cadillac cars, Sir Guy and Don Loper Shirts.