1935 – Elvis Presley is born in Tupelo, Miss., one of a pair of twins. His brother Jessie is stillborn. Chart Toppers ranks him as the top pop recording artist of all time with 17 No. 1 songs. The 1956 two-sided hit “Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog” stays at No. 1 for 11 weeks, a record for the rock era that stands until 1992.
Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977; middle name sometimes written Aron)a was an American singer, actor and musician. A cultural icon, he is commonly known simply as “Elvis”, and is also sometimes referred to as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “The King”.
In 1954, Presley began his career as one of the first performers of rockabilly, an uptempo fusion of country and rhythm and blues with a strong back beat. His novel versions of existing songs, mixing “black” and “white” sounds, made him popular—and controversial and had unusually wide success encompassing other genres, including gospel, blues, ballads and pop. To date, he has been inducted into four music halls of fame.
In the 1960s, Presley made the majority of his thirty-one movies—mainly poorly reviewed, but financially successful, musicals. and other factors led to his death at age 42.
Elvis Presley owed his ancestry to diverse European ethnic strains, primarily British and German; Presley’s lineage also included some Native American, i.e., Cherokee descent.
Presley was born in a two-room shotgun house, built by his father, in East Tupelo. He was an identical twin—his brother was stillborn and given the name Jesse Garon. Growing up as an only child he “was, everyone agreed, unusually close to his mother.”
In September 1942, Presley entered first grade at Lawhorn School in Tupelo.
On October 3, 1945, at age ten, he made his first public performance in a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show at the suggestion of his teacher Mrs. J.C. Grimes.
In 1946, for his eleventh birthday, Presley received his first guitar.
In September 1950, Presley occasionally worked evenings as an usher at Loew’s State Theater—his first job—to boost the family income,
After graduation, Presley was still rather shy, a “kid who had spent scarcely a night away from home”.
Early musical influences
Initial influences came through his family’s attendance at the Assembly of God.
The young Presley frequently listened to local radio; his first musical hero was family friend Mississippi Slim, a hillbilly singer with a radio show on Tupelo’s WELO. Presley performed occasionally on Slim’s Saturday morning show, Singin’ and Pickin’ Hillbilly. “He was crazy about music… That’s all he talked about,” recalls his sixth grade friend, James Ausborn, Slim’s younger brother.
In Memphis, Presley went to record stores that had jukeboxes and listening booths, playing old records and new releases for hours. He was an audience member at the all-night white—and black—”gospel sings” downtown.
Memphis had a strong tradition of blues music and Presley went to blues as well as hillbilly venues. Many of his future recordings were inspired by local African American composers and recording artists, including Arthur Crudup, Rufus Thomas and B.B. King.
Presley “was an untrained musician who played
First recordings and performances
Elvis Presley’s Sun recordings
On July 18, 1953, Presley went to Sun Records’ Memphis Recording Service to record “My Happiness” with “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin”, supposedly a present for his mother.
During a recording break, Presley began “acting the fool” first with Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)”.
“That’s All Right” was aired on July 8, 1954, by DJ Dewey Phillips.
Moore and Black began playing regularly with Presley. They gave performances on the July 17 and July 24, 1954 to promote the Sun single at the Bon Air, a rowdy music club in Memphis, where the band was not well-received.
DJ and promoter Bob Neal became the trio’s manager (replacing Scotty Moore). Moore and Black left their band, the Starlight Wranglers and, from August through October 1954, appeared with Presley at The Eagle’s Nest.
According to one source, regarding Presley’s engagements from that time, “Audiences had never before heard
By August 1955, Sun Studios had released ten sides credited to “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill”, all typical of the developing Presley style. That style proved hard to categorize; he was billed or labeled in the media as “The King of Western Bop”, “The Hillbilly Cat” and “The Memphis Flash”.
On August 15, 1955, “Colonel” Tom Parker became Presley’s manager, signing him to a one year contract, plus renewals.
The iconic cover of Elvis Presley’s debut RCA Victor album. Photo taken on January 31, 1955
On January 10, Presley made his first recordings for RCA in Nashville, Tennessee. By April it had hit number one in the U.S. charts, selling in excess of one million copies.
To increase the singer’s exposure, Parker finally brought Presley to national television (In March 1955, Presley had failed an audition for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts). He booked six Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show appearances in New York for CBS, beginning January 28, 1956. Presley was introduced on the first by Cleveland DJ Bill Randle. He stayed in town and on January 30, he and the band headed for the RCA’s New York Studio.
On March 23, RCA Victor released Elvis Presley, his first album. Like the Sun recordings, the majority of the tracks were country songs.
On April 1, Presley launched his acting career with a screen-test for Paramount Pictures. His first motion-picture, Love Me Tender, was released on November 21 (See ‘Acting career’).
Colonel Parker had also obtained a deal for two lucrative shows with Milton Berle at NBC. Presley first appeared on The Milton Berle Show from the deck of the USS Hancock in San Diego on April 3. His performance was cheered by a live audience of appreciative sailors and their dates.
From April 23, Presley was scheduled to perform four weeks at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip—billed this time as “the Atomic Powered Singer” (Since Nevada was the home of the U.S.’s atomic weapons testing, Parker thought the name would be catchy). His shows were so badly received by critics and the conservative, middle-aged guests, that Colonel Parker cut short the engagement from four weeks to two.
After more hectic touring, Presley made his second appearance on The Milton Berle Show (June 5). Whilst delivering an uptempo version of “Hound Dog” (without his guitar), he then stopped, and immediately after began performing a slower version.
The Berle shows drew such huge ratings that Steve Allen (NBC), not a fan of rock and roll, booked him for one appearance in New York on July 1. Allen wanted “to do a show the whole family can watch” and introduced a “new Elvis” in white bow tie and black tails. Presley sang “Hound Dog” for less than a minute to a Basset Hound in a top hat. According to one author, “Allen thought Presley was talentless and absurd…
Country vocalists The Jordanaires accompanied Presley on The Steve Allen Show and their first recording session together produced “Any Way You Want Me”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog”. The Jordanaires would work with the singer through the 1960s.
Though Presley had been unhappy, Allen’s show had, for the first time, beaten The Ed Sullivan Show in the ratings, causing a critical Sullivan (CBS) to book Presley for three appearances for an unprecedented $50,000.
Presley’s first Ed Sullivan appearance (September 9, 1956) was seen by some 55–60 million viewers. Biographer Greil Marcus has written: “Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows and on the Berle show, it was ice cream.”
On December 4, Presley dropped into Sun Records where Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were recording.
On December 29, Billboard revealed that Presley had placed more songs in the Top 100 than any other artist since chart records began.
Controversy and cultural impact
Cultural impact of Elvis Presley
When “That’s All Right” was played, many listeners were sure Presley must be black, prompting white disc-jockeys to ignore his Sun singles. However, black disc-jockeys did not want anything to do with any record they knew was made by a white man.c
By the spring of 1956, Presley was becoming popular nationwide and teenagers flocked to his concerts. Scotty Moore recalled: “He’d start out, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ and they’d just go to pieces. They’d always react the same way. There’d be a riot every time.”
Crowd frenzy at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, 1956
To many white adults, the singer was “the first rock symbol of teenage rebellion. … they did not like him, and condemned him as depraved. Anti-Negro prejudice doubtless figured in adult antagonism. Regardless of whether parents were aware of the Negro sexual origins of the phrase ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, Presley impressed them as the visual and aural embodiment of sex.”
According to the FBI files on the singer, Presley was even seen as a “definite danger to the security of the United States.” His actions and motions were called “a strip-tease with clothes on” or “sexual self-gratification on stage.” They were compared with “masturbation or riding a microphone.” Some saw the singer as a sexual pervert, and psychologists feared that teenaged girls and boys could easily be “aroused to sexual indulgence and perversion by certain types of motions and hysteria—the type that was exhibited at the Presley show.” (Presley recalls this incident during the ’68 Comeback Special.)
In 1957, despite Presley’s demonstrable respect for “black” music and performers,
His parents moved home in Memphis, but the singer lived there briefly. With increased concerns over privacy and security, Graceland was bought and renovated in 1957, a mansion with several acres of land. This was Presley’s primary residence until his death.
Presley’s record sales grew quickly throughout the late 1950s, with hits like “All Shook Up”, “(Let me Be Your) Teddy Bear” and “Too Much”.
Military service and mother’s death
Rank and Insignia Date of Rank
24 March 1958
Private First-Class 27 November 1958
Specialist 4 1 June 1959
Sergeant 20 January 1960
On December 20, 1957, Presley received his draft notice. Hal Wallis and Paramount Pictures had already spent $350,000 on the film King Creole, and did not want to suspend or cancel the project. The Memphis Draft Board granted Presley a deferment to finish it. On March 24, 1958, he was inducted as US Army private #53310761 and completed basic training at Fort Hood, Texas on September 17, 1958, before being posted to Friedberg, Germany with the 3rd Armored Division, where his service took place from October 1, 1958 until March 2, 1960.
3rd Armored Division insignia
Fellow soldiers have attested to Presley’s wish to be seen as an able an ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity while in service. To supplement meager under-clothing supplies, Presley bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit. He also donated his Army pay to charity, and purchased all the TV sets for personnel on the base at that time.
Presley had chosen not to join ‘Special Services’, which would have allowed him to avoid certain duties and maintain his public profile. Hit singles—and six albums—duly followed during that period.
As Presley’s fame grew, his mother continued to drink excessively and began to gain weight. She had wanted her son to succeed, “but…
Some months later, in Germany, “d
Presley returned to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, and was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on March 5.
First post-Army recordings
The first recording session, on March 20, 1960, was attended by all of the significant businessmen involved with Presley; none had heard him sing for two years, and there were inevitable concerns about him being able to recapture his previous success.
In 1956, Presley launched his career as a film actor. He screen-tested for Paramount Pictures by lip-synching “Blue Suede Shoes” and performing a scene as ‘Bill Starbuck’ in The Rainmaker.
After signing a seven-year contract with Paramount, Presley made his big-screen début with the musical western, Love Me Tender. It was panned by the critics but did well at the box office. He also made one non-musical western, Charro!.
Presley in a promotional photo for Jailhouse Rock released by MGM on November 8, 1957
Presley stopped live performing after his Army service with the exception, ironically—given Sinatra’s previously scathing criticism—of a guest appearance on The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis (1960). He also performed three charity concerts—two in Memphis and one in Pearl Harbor (1961).
In the Army, Presley had said on many occasions that “more than anything, he wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.”
The movies he did make, and the AIP beach movies (which were mainly made for an early sixties teenage audience), were generally criticized as a “pantheon of bad taste.”
Elvis in the film Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Presley movies were nevertheless very popular, and he “became a film genre of his own.”very film yields an LP sound-track record which may sell as many as two-million copies.”
In 1964, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole had starred in Hal Wallis’ acclaimed Becket. Wallis admitted to the press that the financing of such quality productions was only possible by making a series of profitable B-movies starring Presley. Elvis branded Wallis “a double-dealing sonofabitch” (and he thought little better of Tom Parker), realizing there had never been any intention to let him develop into a serious actor.
Presley was similarly exploited the following year with the film Tickle Me. Allied Artists had serious financial problems and hoped a Presley film would help them “stay afloat”.
Presley was one of the highest paid actors during the 1960s, but times were changing. ”
Change of Habit (1969) was the singer’s final movie role. His last two films were concert documentaries in the early 1970s, though Presley was keen to consider dramatic movie roles. (See: ‘Influence of Colonel Parker and others’).
As well as the formulaic movie songs of the 1960s, Presley added to the studio recordings of Elvis Is Back, by recording other noteworthy songs like “She’s Not You”, “Suspicion,” “Little Sister”, “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” and “It Hurts Me.” In 1966 he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time” (which RCA Victor relegated to a bonus track on the soundtrack album for Spinout). He also produced two gospel albums: His Hand in Mine (1960) and How Great Thou Art (1966). In 1967, he recorded some well-received singles, like Guitar Man, by songwriter/guitar player Jerry Reed. However, “during the Beatles era (1963-70), only six Elvis singles reached number ten or better. ‘Suspicious Minds’ was the lone number one.”
“The Fab Four” meet “The King”
During filming of Paradise, Hawaiian Style, Presley returned to his Bel Air home. The Beatles were at the end of their second U.S. tour. Colonel Parker had been negotiating a meeting for some time, through The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, though Parker simply saw it as a valuable publicity opportunity (He had apparently even tried to get the group and Presley to perform the closing song in the same movie, but The Beatles’ film contract precluded it). The group arrived in Bel Air amid a flurry of elaborate security arrangements made by Parker at 10pm, on August 27, 1965.
Biographer Peter Guralnick maintains that Presley was at best “lukewarm” about playing host to people he did not really know, and it took a while for everyone to feel comfortable.
Marty Lacker recalls Presley saying: “‘Quite frankly, if you guys are going to stare at me all night, I’m going to bed. I thought we’d talk a while and maybe jam a little.’ And when he said that, they
Ringo Starr played pool with two others that night; George Harrison “looked to most of the guys to be stoned” on arrival and allegedly smoked a joint with Larry Geller and talked about Hinduism (see: ‘Influence of Colonel Parker and others’). Parker played roulette with Epstein. (See: ‘1970–1972)’).
Relationships of Elvis Presley
Presley’s sexual appeal and photogenic looks have been acknowledged: for example, director Steve Binder, not a fan of Presley’s music at the time, recalled from the ’68 Comeback Special (when Presley was fit and tanned): “I’m straight as an arrow and I got to tell you, you stop, whether you’re male or female, to look at him. He was that good looking. And if you never knew he was a superstar, it wouldn’t make any difference; if he’d walked in the room, you’d know somebody special was in your presence.”
According to Marjorie Garber, a “male rock critic writing in 1970 praised Elvis as ‘The master of the sexual simile, treating his guitar as both phallus and girl.’ … rumor had it that into his skin-tight jeans was sewn a lead bar to suggest a weapon of heroic proportions.” She cites a boyhood friend of Presley’s who claims the singer actually used a cardboard toilet roll tube to make it “look to the girls up front like he had one helluva thing there inside his pants.”
Accounts of Presley’s numerous sexual conquests may be exaggerated.
Ann-Margret (Presley’s co-star in Viva Las Vegas) refers to Presley as her “soulmate” but has revealed little else.
Former partner Linda Thompson says they did not consummate their relationship until after a few months of dating. After they broke up in December 1976, many say Presley never had sex again.
Marriage to Priscilla
Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley
Elvis and Priscilla met in 1959 at a party in Bad Nauheim, Germany during his stay in the army.
Priscilla and Elvis stayed in contact over the phone, though they would not see each other again until the summer of 1962, when Priscilla’s parents agreed to let her visit for two weeks.
In her autobiography, Elvis and Me, Priscilla says that Elvis refused to have sex with her until they were married. However, biographer Suzanne Finstad writes that Priscilla and Elvis slept together on their second date.
Shortly before Christmas 1966, Elvis proposed to Priscilla. They married on May 1, 1967 at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. In typical fashion, Colonel Parker had arranged a photo session and press conference to be conducted shortly after the ceremony. According to Finstad, this marriage was part of a mastermind for fame hatched by Priscilla and her mother.
Their only child, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968.
Influence of Colonel Parker and others
Colonel Tom Parker and Memphis Mafia
By 1967, Colonel Tom Parker had negotiated a contract that gave him 50% of Presley’s earnings. Parker’s excessive gambling—and his subsequent need to have Presley signed up to commercially lucrative contracts—may well have adversely affected the course of Presley’s career.
As well as signing Presley to RCA Victor, Parker also cut a deal with Hill and Range Publishing Company to create a separate entity— “Elvis Presley Music Incorporated”—to handle all of Presley’s songs and accrued royalties. Parker would later use this set-up to make songwriters relinquish some of their royalties; this ultimately resulted in the better writers refusing to provide songs for Presley, causing a marked decline in the quality of his output over the years.
In 1969, record producer Chips Moman and Presley recorded with Moman’s own musicians at his American Sound Studios in Memphis. Given the control exerted by RCA and the music publishers, this was a significant departure. Moman still had to deal with Hill and Range staff on site and was not happy with their song choices. Moman could only get the best out of the singer when he threatened to quit the sessions and asked Presley to remove the “aggravating” publishing personnel from the studio.
According to life-long friend and “Memphis Mafia” member George Klein, over the years Presley was offered lead roles in the film Midnight Cowboy and in West Side Story. Robert Mitchum personally offered him the lead in Thunder Road.
Marty Lacker regarded Parker as a “hustler and scam artist” who abused Presley’s trust, but Lacker acknowledged that Parker was a master promoter.
Presley’s father in turn distrusted Lacker and the other members of the “Memphis Mafia”; he thought they collectively exercised an unhealthy influence over his son.
Larry Geller became Presley’s hairdresser in 1964. Unlike others in the “Memphis Mafia”, Geller was interested in ‘spiritual studies’, and was subsequently viewed with suspicion and scorn by the singer’s manager and friends.
Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special
Elvis Presley in his ’68 Comeback Special, airing on NBC, December 3, 1968
In 1968, even Presley’s version of Jerry Reed’s hook-laden “Guitar Man” had failed to enter the U.S. Top 40. He continued to issue movie soundtrack albums that sold poorly compared to those of films like Blue Hawaii from 1961. It had also been nearly six years since the single “Good Luck Charm” had topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Presley was, by now, “profoundly” unhappy with his career.
The special was made in June, but was first aired on December 3, 1968 as a Christmas telecast called simply Elvis. Later dubbed the ’68 Comeback Special by fans and critics, the show featured some lavishly staged studio productions. Other songs however, were performed live with a band in front of a small audience—Presley’s first live appearance as a performer since 1961. The live segments saw Presley clad in black leather, singing and playing guitar in an uninhibited style—reminiscent of his rock and roll days. Rolling Stone called it “a performance of emotional grandeur and historical resonance.”
By January, 1969, one of the key songs written specifically for the special, “If I Can Dream”, reached number 12.
Jerry Schilling recalls that the special reminded Presley about what “he had not been able to do for years, being able to choose the people; being able to choose what songs and not being told what had to be on the soundtrack. … He was out of prison, man.” Steve Binder said of Presley’s reaction: “I played Elvis the 60-minute show, and he told me in the screening room, “Steve, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I give you my word I will never sing a song I don’t believe in.”
Buoyed by the experience, Presley engaged in the prolific series of recording sessions at American Sound Studios, which lead to the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis (Chips Moman was its uncredited producer). It was followed by From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis, a double-album. The same sessions lead to the hit singles “In the Ghetto”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Kentucky Rain” and “Don’t Cry Daddy”.
Return to live performances
In 1969, Presley was keen to resume regular live performing. Following the success of Elvis, many new offers came in from around the world.
Presley duly delivered fifty-seven shows over four weeks at the hotel, which had the largest showroom in the city. He had assembled some of the finest musicians—including an orchestra—and some of the best soul/gospel back-up singers available.
Despite such a prestigious backing, Presley was nervous; his only other engagement in Las Vegas (1956) had been a disaster, critically. Parker therefore promoted the singer’s appearances heavily; he rented billboards and took out full-page advertisements in local and trade papers. The lobby of the International displayed Presley souvenirs; records, T-shirts, straw boaters and stuffed animals. Parker intended to make Presley’s return the show business event of the year, and hotel owner Kirk Kerkorian planned to send his own plane to New York to fly in the rock press for the debut performance.
Presley took to the stage with no introduction. The audience—which included Pat Boone, Fats Domino, Wayne Newton, Dick Clark, Ann-Margret, George Hamilton, Angie Dickinson, and Henry Mancini—gave him a standing ovation before he sang one note.
Newsweek commented: “There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars.”
The next day, Parker’s negotiations with the hotel resulted in a five-year contract for Presley to play each February and August, at a salary of $1 million per year.
Elvis meets U.S. President Richard Nixon in the White House Oval Office, December 21, 1970
In January 1970, Presley returned to the International Hotel for a month-long engagement, performing two shows a night. RCA recorded some shows and the best material appeared on the album On Stage – February 1970.
Around this time Presley was threatened with kidnapping at the International Hotel. Phone calls were received, one demanding $50,000; if unpaid, Presley would be killed by a “crazy man”. The FBI took the threat seriously and security was stepped up for the next two shows. Presley went on stage with a Derringer in his right boot and a .45 in his waistband, but nothing untoward transpired.
After closing his Las Vegas engagement on September 7, Presley embarked on his first concert tour since 1958. Feeling exhausted, Presley spent a month relaxing and recording before touring again in October and November. He would tour extensively in the U.S. up to his death; many of the 1,145 concerts setting attendance records.
On December 21, 1970, Presley met with President Richard Nixon at the White House (Presley arrived with a gift—a handgun. It was accepted but not presented for security reasons). Presley had engineered the encounter to express his patriotism, his contempt for the hippie drug culture and his wish to be appointed a “Federal Agent at Large”. He also wished to obtain a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge to add to similar items he had begun collecting. He offered to “infiltrate hippie groups” and claimed that The Beatles had “made their money, then gone back to England where they fomented anti-American feeling.”
On January 16, 1971 Presley was named ‘One of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation’ by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Jaycees).
In April 1972, MGM again filmed Presley, this time for Elvis on Tour, which won a 1972 Golden Globe for Best Documentary. A fourteen-date tour started with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, New York. RCA taped the shows for a live album. After the tour, Presley released the 1972 single “Burning Love”—his last top ten hit in the U.S. charts.
Divorce from Priscilla
Off stage, Presley had continuing problems. His lifelong friend, Joe Esposito, said Elvis “could never be true to any one woman.” The Presleys separated on February 23, 1972 and divorced on October 9, 1973, agreeing to share custody of their daughter.
Following his separation from Priscilla, he lived with Linda Thompson, a songwriter and one-time Memphis beauty queen, from July 1972 until just a few months before his death.
Aloha from Hawaii
Elvis Presley, in Aloha From Hawaii television broadcast via satellite on January 14, 1973
In January 1973, Presley performed two charity concerts in Hawaii for the Kui Lee cancer foundation. The first (January 12) was primarily a practice run for the main show which was broadcast live on January 14 (The first show also served as a backup if technical problems affected the live broadcast). The “Aloha from Hawaii” concert was the world’s first live concert satellite broadcast, reaching at least a billion viewers live and a further 500 million on delay. The show’s album went to number one and spent a year in the charts. The album also proved to be Presley’s last U.S. Number One album during his lifetime.
After his divorce in 1973, Presley became increasingly unwell, with prescription drugs affecting his health, mood and his stage act. His diet had always been unhealthy, and he now had significant weight problems.
In his book, Elvis: The Final Years, Jerry Hopkins writes: “Elvis’ health plummeted as his weight ballooned.” At a University of Maryland concert on September 27 (1974), band members “had trouble recognizing him. … ‘He walked on stage and held onto the mike for the first thirty minutes like it was a post. Everybody was scared.’ Guitarist John Wilkinson … recalled, … ‘He was all gut. He was slurring. … It was obvious he was drugged, that there was something terribly wrong with his body. It was so bad, the words to the songs were barely intelligible. … We were in a state of shock.’ ”
Despite this, his “thundering” live version of “How Great Thou Art” won him a Grammy award in 1974.
In April 1974, rumours began that he would actually be playing overseas after years of offers.
Presley continued to play to sell-out crowds in the U.S.; a 1975 tour ended with a concert in Pontiac, Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans. However the singer now had “no motivation to lose his extra poundage… he became self-conscious… his self-confidence before the audience declined… Headlines such as ‘Elvis Battles Middle Age’ and ‘Time Makes Listless Machine of Elvis’ were not uncommon.”
On July 13, 1976, Presley’s father fired “Memphis Mafia” bodyguards Red West, Sonny West and David Hebler. All three were taken by surprise, especially the Wests, who had been with Presley since the beginning of his career.
Almost throughout the 1970s, Presley’s recording label had been increasingly concerned about making money from Presley material: RCA Victor often had to rely on live recordings because of problems getting him to attend studio sessions. A mobile studio was occasionally sent to Graceland in the hope of capturing an inspired vocal performance. Once in a studio, he could lack interest or be easily distracted; often this was linked to his health and drug problems.
Final year and death
In 2006, a journalist recalled: “Elvis Presley had
In Rapid City, “he was so nervous on stage that he could hardly talk… He was undoubtedly painfully aware of how he looked, and he knew that in his condition, he could not perform any significant movement.”
Elvis Presley’s final resting place at Graceland
The book Elvis: What Happened? was published just fifteen days before Presley’s death.
Presley’s final performance was in Indianapolis at the Market Square Arena, on June 26, 1977. According to many of his entourage who accompanied him on tour, it was the “best show he had given in a long time” with “some strong singing”.
Another tour was scheduled to begin August 17, 1977, but at Graceland the day before, Presley was found on his bathroom floor by fiancée, Ginger Alden. According to the medical investigator, Presley had “stumbled or crawled several feet before he died”; he had apparently been using the toilet at the time. Death was officially pronounced at 3:30 pm at the Baptist Memorial Hospital.
Before his funeral, hundreds of thousands of fans, the press and celebrities lined the streets and many hoped to see the open casket in Graceland. One of Presley’s cousins, Bobby Mann,
On Thursday, August 18, following a funeral service at Graceland,
Presley had developed many health problems during his life, some of them chronic.
According to Guralnick: ”
The medical profession has been seriously questioned. Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco had publicly offered a cause of death while the autopsy was still being performed, but before toxicology results were known. Dr. Francisco dubiously stated that cardiac arrhythmia was the cause of death, a condition that can only be determined in a living person—not post mortem.
In 1994, the autopsy into Presley’s death was re-opened. Coroner Dr. Joseph Davis declared: “There is nothing in any of the data that supports a death from drugs
Further information: Cultural depictions of Elvis Presley; Cultural impact of Elvis Presley; Elvis Presley phenomenon
Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. More than 20 years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense, and he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country.
– President Jimmy Carter, 1977-08-17,
Author Samuel Roy has argued: “Elvis’ death did occur at a time when it could only help his reputation. Just before his death, Elvis had been forgotten by society.”
Biographer Ernst Jorgensen has observed that when Presley died, “it was as if all perspective on his musical career was somehow lost.”
Presley has featured prominently in a variety of polls and surveys designed to measure popularity and influence.g However, sociologist Philip Ennis writes: “Perhaps it is an error of enthusiasm to freight Elvis Presley with too heavy a historical load” because, according to a opinion poll of high school students in 1957, Pat Boone was nearly the “two-to-one favorite over Elvis Presley among boys and preferred almost three-to-one by girls…”
In the late 1960s, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein remarked: “Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution… the 60’s comes from it.”
Other celebrated pop and rock musicians have acknowledged that the young Presley inspired them. The Beatles were all big Presley fans.
By 1958, singers obviously adopting Presley’s style, like Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard (the so-called “British Elvis”), were rising to prominence in the UK. Elsewhere, France’s Johnny Hallyday and the Italians Adriano Celentano and Bobby Solo were also heavily influenced by Presley.
Presley’s recorded voice is seen by many as his enduring legacy. Music critic Henry Pleasants writes: “Elvis Presley has been described variously as a baritone and a tenor. An extraordinary compass… and a very wide range of vocal color have something to do with this divergence of opinion. The voice covers two octaves and a third … Moreover, he has not been confined to one type of vocal production. In ballads and country songs he belts out full-voiced high G’s and A’s that an opera baritone might envy. He is a naturally assimilative stylist with a multiplicity of voices—in fact, Elvis’ is an extraordinary voice, or many voices.”
Gospel tenor Shawn Nielsen, who sang backing vocals for Presley on tour, said: “He could sing anything. I’ve never seen such versatility… He had such great soul. He had the ability to make everyone in the audience think that he was singing directly to them. He just had a way with communication that was totally unique.”
Presley’s informal jamming in front of a small audience in the ’68 Comeback Special is regarded as a forerunner of the so-called ‘Unplugged’ concept, later popularized by MTV.
The singer has been inducted into four music ‘Halls of Fame’: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986), the Rockabilly Hall of Fame (1997), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1998), and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2001). In 1984, he received the W. C. Handy Award from the Blues Foundation and the Academy of Country Music’s first Golden Hat Award. In 1987, he received the American Music Awards’ first posthumous presentation of the Award of Merit.
Presley has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard. He was also honored by the Mississippi Blues Commission with a Mississippi Blues Trail historic marker placed in Tupelo, his birth place, in recognition of his contribution to the development of the blues in Mississippi.
In 1994, the 40th anniversary of Presley’s “That’s All Right” was recognized with its re-release, which made the charts worldwide, making top three in the UK.
During the 2002 World Cup a Junkie XL remix of his “A Little Less Conversation” (credited as “Elvis Vs JXL”) topped the charts in over twenty countries and was included in a compilation of Presley’s U.S. and UK number one hits, Elv1s: 30.
In the UK charts (January 2005), three re-issued singles again went to number one (“Jailhouse Rock”, “One Night”/”I Got Stung” and “It’s Now or Never”). Throughout the year, twenty singles were re-issued—all making top five.
In the same year, Forbes magazine named Presley, for the fifth straight year, the top-earning deceased celebrity, grossing US$45 million for the Presley estate during the preceding year. In mid-2006, top place was taken by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain after the sale of his song catalogue, but Presley reclaimed the top spot in 2007.
Paul F. Campos has written: “The Elvis cult touches on so many crucial nerves of American popular culture: the ascent of a workingclass boy from the most obscure backwater to international fame and fortune; the white man with the soul of black music in his voice; the performer whose music tied together the main strands of American folk music – country, rhythm and blues, and gospel; and, perhaps most compellingly for a weight-obsessed nation, the sexiest man in America’s gradual transformation into a fat, sweating parody of his former self, straining the bounds of a jewel-encrusted bodysuit on a Las Vegas stage. The images of fat Elvis and thin Elvis live together in the popular imagination.”
In 2002, it was observed: