Thursday, September 9, 2010


Elvis Aron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977), also known as The King of Rock and Roll, or as just simply The King, was an American singer who had an immeasurable effect on world culture. He started his career under the name the Hillbilly Cat and was soon nicknamed Elvis the Pelvis because of his sexually suggestive performance style.

Elvis Presley was the first real rock and roll star. A white southerner who singing blues laced with country and country tinged with gospel, Presley brought together music from both sides of the color line. Presley performed this music with a natural hip swiveling sexuality that made him a teen idol and a role model for generations of cool rebels. Presley was repeatedly dismissed as vulgar, incompetent and a bad influence. However the force of his music and image signaled to the mainstream culture it was time for a change.


Scottish author Allan Morrison claims that Elvis was of Scottish descent. In an as-yet-unpublished book, Morrison claims to have found that his ancestors lived in Lonmay, Aberdeenshire in the 1700s. According to Morrison, records show that Andrew Presley married Elspeth Leg in Lonmay in 1713. Their son, also called Andrew, went to the English colonies in 1745. Through his father's mother Minnie Mae, Elvis was descended from King Henry II of England. Elvis' maternal grandmother was Jewish.

Born January 8, 1935, in East Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley was the son of Gladys and Vernon Presley, a sewing machine operator and a truck driver. Presley's twin brother Jesse Garon was stillborn, and he grew up as an only child. At age three, Vernon was sent to prison for forgery. It seems that Vernon, Travis Smith, and Luther Gable changed the amount of a check from Orville Bean,Vernon's boss, from $3 to $8 and cashed it at a local bank. Vernon pled guilty and was sentenced to three years at Parchment Farms Penitentiary. Vernon's boss, Mr. Bass calls in a note that Vernon signed to borrow money to build the house. Gladys is forced to move in with Vernon's parents. Vernon would only serve eight months. Afterward Vernon's employment was spotty and the family lived just above the poverty line. The Presleys attended the First Assembly of God Church whose Pentecostal services always included singing.

Entering the fifth grade, Presley is asked by his teacher, Oleta Grimes to enter a talent contest on children's day at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. At the age of ten , dressed in a cowboy suit, and standing on a chair to reach the microphone, Presley for his rendition of Red Foley's "Old Shep" won second place, a $5 prize and a free ticket to all the rides. On his birthday the following January he received a guitar purchased from Tupelo Hardware Store. Over the next year,Vernon's brother Johnny Smith and Assembly of Good pastor Frank Smith. gives him basic guitar lessons.

In 1948 after losing another job Vernon moved the family to Memphis. Glady's brothers get him a job at the Precision Tool Company and the Presleys moved into a small apartment at 370 Washington Street for $11 a week. On September 13 Elvis enrolls at L.C. Humes High School.

Starting his sophomore year Presley works in the school library and after school at Loew's State Theatre. In 1951, his receives his first driver's license, joins the ROTC unit at Humes High, tries out for the football team (he's cut by the coach when he won"t trim his sideburns and ducktail), and in his spare time hanging around the black section of town, especially on Beale Street.

In his senior year Presley gets his first car, a 1942 Lincoln Zephyr, from Vernon. At eighteen majoring in Shop, History, and English he graduates from Humes High in 1953.

The day after graduation he took a job at Parker Machinists Shop. By June was working at the Precision Tool Company and then drove truck for the Crown Electric Co. After a short time in the stock room he is promoted to truck and began to wear his long hair pompadoured, the current truck driver style. That summer he recorded "My Happiness" and "That's When the Your Heartaches Begin" at Memphis Recording Studios, a sideline Sam Phillips had started at his Sun Records studios where anyone could record a ten inch acetate for four dollars.

You would never have guessed any of this back in 1953 when a young worker from the Parker Machinists Shop wandered into the Memphis Recording Service on his lunch hour to record two songs as a belated birthday present for his mother. Okay, maybe that's just folklore as this was summer and Gladys' birthday was in April. Maybe he just wanted to record. That's okay. Whatever the motivation, it was worth the $3.98 shot.

Presley choose to record two Ink Spots tunes, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." What's interesting about the choices is that Sam Phillips, the owner, also owned Sun Records, an independent record label, and was known to be looking for a white man who could sing in a black R&B style.

However, Sam Phillips wasn't impressed then or when the young Presley tried again in January of 1954, when Elvis recorded, "Careless Love" and "I'll Never Stand In Your Way." (Some say the song was "Casual Love Affair, but the Sun site says "Careless Love" and that's good enough for me.)

In July of 1954 Elvis was back in the studio singing "That's Alright Mama" only now at Phillips suggestion, he has Scotty Moore playing guitar and Bill Black on bass. Phillips, finally recognizing the potential, knew he had the breakthrough star he had been looking for. Specifically, Phillips had found a white guy who had the sound and feel of the black R&B artists he had been recording.

Elvis joined Sun Records and what would come to be called Sun's "Million Dollar Quartet" - the foursome of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Presley.

By 1955 Elvis had recorded 5 songs for Sun Records and gained some popularity in the South. What he also acquired was a new manager, Col. Tom Parker. Giving Parker his due - the man knew how to market. Parker launched a campaign aimed at garnishing national exposure for Elvis.

Elvis first appeared on CBS' Dorsey Brothers Stage Show. On The Steve Allen Show, he sang "Hound Dog" to a real dog. From his performance on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theatre he got the nickname Elvis the Pelvis - which worried the family minded Ed Sullivan. By the third performance, Sullivan decided to "crop" Elvis. Thus, the now famous "from the waist up only" appearance on the Sullivan show. It is estimated that one of these Sullivan performances was viewed by 52 million people - one out of every three Americans.

Parker wanted to move Elvis away from Sun so he began some fancy negotiations. According to the legend, Parker hawked the contract to Decca, Mercury, Columbia and Atlantic - pitting them against one another to get progressively higher bids. Ultimately, RCA bought Elvis' Sun contract for $40,000, a huge sum for that time. Because he was under 21 and therefore, still a minor, Elvis' father, Vernon had to sign the contract.

In February of 1956 Elvis recorded his first five songs for RCA. Among these was Heartbreak Hotel, which quickly rose to the top of the charts to become Elvis' first Number 1 hit.

The second half of the decade was good to Elvis. Amazingly, eight of his lifetime Top Ten songs are from the Fifties. This in spite of the fact that from 1958 through 1959, Elvis was in the U.S. Army.

Elvis Presley: The Missing Years [DVD] (Rare Army footage) - DVD

With the advantage of hindsight, we all know what the future would hold for Elvis Presley. Circumstances would catapult Elvis into a stardom unknown before or since by any single artist. And, the road would wind into a sad and tragic end. Beyond the Fifties we would never again have the intimate, close feeling that Elvis evoked. It would be the last time that we felt we could touch The King.

During his lifetime, Elvis Presley:

recorded 104 singles that hit the Top 40 of the Billboard pop chart.

had 18 number 1 Billboard hits, including four singles in 1956 that occupied the top of the charts for a cumulative total of 25 weeks. The total (18) is surpassed only by The Beatles, who had 20 number 1 hits.

had 38 Top 10 Billboard hits. This total is currently unchallenged; the closest competitor, Madonna, has 35. (The Beatles had 34 Top 10 hits during their career.)

Until the record was broken by Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" in November 1992, Elvis Presley's double-side "Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog" was the undisputed champion of singles in terms of weeks spent at number one. The record spent 11 weeks at the top starting on August 18, 1956.

These are other records set by Presley's recordings:

From March 1956 to November 1959, every week there was at least one Elvis song on the singles chart.

From 1956 to 1962 Elvis set the record with 24 consecutive top 5 hit singles (singles listed with B-side songs and original U.S.A. release dates):

"Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One" - released 1/27/56

"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" / "My Baby Left Me" - 5/4/56

"Don't Be Cruel" / "Hound Dog" - 7/13/56

"Love Me Tender" / "Any Way You Want Me" - 9/28/56

"Too Much" / "Playing For Keeps" - 1/4/57

"All Shook Up" / "That's When Your Heartaches Begin" - 3/22/57

"Teddy Bear" / "Loving You" - 6/11/57

"Jailhouse Rock" / "Treat Me Nice" - 9/24/57

"Don't" / "I Beg Of You" - 1/7/58

Elvis also charted 9 consecutive #1 singles:

"Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" / "Doncha' Think It's Time" - 4/1/58 (the first single to debut on the chart in the top 10)

"Hard Headed Woman" / "Don't Ask Me Why" - 6/10/58

"One Night" / "I Got Stung" - 10/21/58

"A Fool Such As I" / "I Need Your Love Tonight" - 3/10/59

"A Big Hunk O' Love" / "My Wish Came True" - 6/23/59

"Stuck On You" / "Fame And Fortune" - 3/23/60

"It's Now Or Never" / "A Mess Of Blues" - 7/5/60

"Are You Lonesome Tonight" / "I Gotta Know" - 11/1/60

"Surrender" / "Lonely Man" - 2/7/61

"I Feel So Bad" / "Wild In The Country" - 5/2/61

"His Latest Flame" / "Little Sister" - 8/8/61

"Can't Help Falling In Love" / "Rock-A-Hula Baby" - 11/22/61

"Good Luck Charm" / "Anything That's Part Of You" - 2/27/62

"She's Not You" / "Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello" - 7/14/62

"Return To Sender" / "Where Do You Come From" - 10/2/62

All the above 24 singles also sold over 1 million copies each as well. That is another record yet to be broken.

Since 1962, the closest anyone has come to matching this was Madonna in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with 19 consecutive top 5 hits.

Also, on the official United Kingdom Top 40 chart, "It's Now Or Never" reached number one in the week of Sunday, January 30, 2005, 27 years after Presley's death.

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In early 1957 Presley became the target of criticism by teachers, clergymen, and even other entertainers who his style was to suggestive. He was nicknamed "Elvis the Pelvis" by one writer. On January 6, he made the last of his three appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and was shown only from the waist up.

In March 1957 Presley purchased Graceland, a former church and converted it into a twenty three room mansion. In February "All Shook Up" began an eighteen week stretch at number #1

Presley was the first rock star to crossover into films with consistent commercial success. Loving You, his second film, was released in July 1957 and "Teddy Bear" from it's soundtrack went to #1 on the pop, country, and R&B charts, as did "All Shook Up" and "Jailhouse Rock," the title song from his next movie.

That December he received his draft notice, but was given a 30 day deferment to complete the filming of King Creole. Presale's first four feature films are considered his best. Originally Presley intended to be a serious actor. Unfortunately after he left the service, the choice of roles was left entirely to Colonel Parker with poor results. Since Presley would not tour until the early Seventies, it was through these movies that his fans most fans saw him and that alone accounted for their massive success.

On March 24, 1958 Presley entered the Army. The next months saw number one hits with "Don't" and "I Beg You." A few months later he went on leave to be with sick mother. Gladys Presley died the day after his arrival home in Memphis, on August 14, 1958. Presley would call her death the greatest tragedy in his life. He returned to the Army and was shipped to Bremerhaven, West Germany. In January 1960 he was promoted to sergeant and was discharged that March.

During his time in the service Colonel Parker continued to release singles recorded before his departure so his fans wouldn't forget him. a number of these were hits including "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck," "Don't cha Think It's Time," "Hard Headed Woman," "Don't Ask Me Why," "One Night," "I Got Stung," "A Fool Such as I," "I Need You, I Love You," "A Big Hunk O' Love," and "My Wish Came True". In 1958 alone Presley earned over $2 million. After his release, in March 1960, he recorded his first stereo record, "Stuck On You" and later that month he taped a TV program with Frank Sinatra, The Frank Sinatra Timex Special.

In July Vernon, Presley's father remarried. Vernon Presley's second wife was Davada "Dee" Stanley. At this time Presley began gathering more closely around him his friends, employees, and hangers on that would become known as the Memphis Mafia and would accompany him almost constantly until his death. Presley's world would become increasingly insular.

Picture from G.I. Blues

G.I. Blues was released in in 1960 and "It's Now Over Never" reached #1 . Presley had five number #1 hits in the early 60s, "Stuck On You," "It's Now or Never, "Are You lonesome Tonight," (1960); "Surrender (1961); and "Good Luck Charm" (1962). Priscilla Beaulieu, a teenage daughter of an Army officer that Presley had met while in Germany, visited Graceland during Christmas 1960. In early 1961 she moved in, it was said, under the supervision of Vernon and Davada. The press went along with the spin Colonel Parker put on the story, and few seemed to care the King of Rock and Roll was sharing his house with a teenaged girlfriend.

After a live performance on March 25, 1961 Presley quit performing and spent the next eight years making movies. The soundtracks from his movies were generally poor. By the mid-Sixties Presley was earning $1 million per movie plus a large percentage of the gross. Each movie had a concurrently released soundtrack album, five of which went gold. Presley was displease with these films, but Colonel Parker insisted that Presley stick with this winning formula. Years later Parker's shortsightedness would result in his turning down Barbara Streisand's offer to have Presley costar with her the 1974 remake of A Star Is Born. Parker felt Streisand didn't deserve equal billing with Presley.

With the British invasion, teenagers were hearing more of his disciples than Presley himself. Presley, unlike most American rockers wasn't swept away, but the Top Ten was increasingly beyond his reach. Presley turned increasing inward, focusing on the family. On May 1, 1967 Presley married Priscilla in Las Vegas; on February 1, 1968 their only child Lisa Marie was born. Fearing he had been forgotten, Presley defied Parker and made a comeback television special. Over the summer he taped the television special that was released on December 3 to high ratings. It's soundtrack reached #8 and produced his first Top Twenty single "If I Can Dream" (#12, 1968) since 1965. With this success Presley turned to performing in Las Vegas. On July 26, 1969 Presley began a month long appearance at the International Hotel. This set the course for all of his future performances. His fee for four months was over a $1 million. Riding the crest of the comeback Presley released a series of top singles, including "In the Ghetto," "Suspicious Minds," "Don't Cry Daddy," and The Wonder of You". Presley began touring again, his shows selling out and frequently breaking box office records. Two on tour documentaries were released Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972), the latter which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary.

Presley was honored with countless Elvis Presley days around the country, and the U.S, Jaycees named him one of the ten most outstanding young men of America in 1970. His birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi was opened to the public and a portion of Highway 61 South that ran in front of Graceland was renamed Elvis Presley Boulevard. That October Presley had his last Top ten hit "Burning Love" (#2).

Meanwhile Presley's personal life had become the subject of countless tabloids.In February 1972, Presley separated from Priscilla and on his birthday in 1973 filed for divorce. Less than a week later the TV special Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii was broadcast over satellite to over a billion people in forty countries, an indication of his international appeal although (with the exception of three dates in Canada in 1957 and an impromptu performance in Paris while on leave in 1959) Presley never performed outside the United States. During his career Presley had 94 gold singles, three gold EPs, and over 40 gold albums. His movies grossed over $180 million and millions more were made by the merchandising of Elvis products, the rights which were controlled by Colonel Parker.

Outwardly, Presley was more popular than ever and one of the biggest personality cults in modern history was taking hold. Off stage Presley was plagued with self doubt, poor management, and a basic dissatisfaction with his life. He repeatedly threatened to quit show business, but debts and financial obligations to his large extended family, employees, and assorted hangers on made that impossible. Presley turned to drugs. After leaving the army he became wary of the public and would often rent whole movie theatres and amusement parks that he would visit at night. By the late Sixties he was an almost total recluse. Although evidence that Presley began taking drugs shortly after began performing or while in the army, his abuse of prescription drugs increased during the last years of his life. Through all this he remained highly spiritual and publicly denounced the use of recreational drugs.

Toward the end of his life he would babble incoherently on stage and rip his pants, having grown quite obese, and at least once collapsed on stage. Despite deteriorating health, Presley maintained a frantic tour schedule, because in 1973 Colonel Parker negotiated a deal with RCA to the rights of many of his masters in exchange for a lump sum payment of which only 2.8 million came to him. After 1973, Parker was earning nearly 50% commission. Worse yet Presley wasn't earning royalties on records recorded before 1973, although they continued to sell millions. Presley opposed tax shelters on principle; naively relied on his father for business advice; gave away expensive gifts and cash. The result was by the mid-Seventies was an impending financial disaster.

June 26, 1977 Presley performed live for the last time in Indianapolis. On August 16, 1977, the day before his next scheduled concert, Presley was discovered by his girlfriend Ginger Alden dead in his bathroom at Graceland. His death was attributed to congestive heart failure. A later autopsy revealed advanced hardening of the arteries and an enlarged liver. Later it was determined that drug abuse may have been a contributing factor. in September 1979 Presley's private doctor Dr. George Nichopoulos was charged by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners with indiscriminately prescribing 5,300 and vials in the seven months before his death. He was later acquitted.

Thousands gathered at Graceland where his body lay in state before he was buried in a mausoleum at Forest Hills Cemetery in Memphis. After attempts to break into the mausoleum, Presley's body and that of his mother were moved to the Meditation Garden behind Graceland. Nearly two years later, Vernon died and was also buried there. The estate now passed on to Lisa Marie.

Court battles over the estate ended in June 1983 after twenty one months of litigation with a settlement of four lawsuits. Colonel Parker was forced to turn over most of his interests in Presley's audio and visual recordings to RCA and the Presley family in return for a large monetary settlement. Priscillia Presley assumed control of the estate and through a number of business moves made Presley's estate more valuable than it had ever been. The cornerstone of the Elvis Presley Enterprise, Inc. financial empire is the Tennessee state law Priscillia Presley pushed for that guarantees to heirs of commercial rights to the deceased celebrity's image and likeness. as a result Elvis Presley is a trademark and anyone selling Presley related memorabilia in the U.S. must pay EPE an advance fee plus a royalty on every item sold.

Claiming the funds were needed to maintain the property, Priscillia opened Graceland to the public in 1982. Though not maintained exactly as Elvis left it and the second floor, where the bedroom was remains off limits to the public, millions from all over the world have visited Graceland. Approximately 675,000 people visit Graceland yearly. The Presley estate in now estimated at well over a $100 million.

Statistically, he holds records for the most Top Forty hits (107), the most Top Ten hits (38), the most consecutive #1 hits (10) and the most weeks at #1 (80). As far as his stature as a cultural icon, which continues to grow even in death, writer Lester Bangs said it best: "I can guarantee you one thing - we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis."


James C. Wallace II said...

The man died on the crapper! What a way to go...

mark shapiro said...

Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977 in the bathroom of his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 42. He had been on the toilet, but fallen off onto the floor, where he lay in a pool of his own vomit. Panicked, his staff contacted an ambulance, which rushed him to nearby Baptist Memorial Hospital, where, after several attempts to revive him, he died at 3:30 pm CST. His autopsy was performed at 7:00 pm.
The official coroner's report lists "cardiac arrhythmia" as the cause of Presley's death, but this was later admitted to be a ruse entered into by the Presley family along with autopsy physicians Dr. Jerry T. Francisco, Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo to cover up the real cause of death, a cocktail of ten prescribed drugs, taken in doses no doctor would prescribe:

The painkillers Morphine and Demerol.
Chloropheniramine, an antihistamine.
The tranquilizers Placidyl and Vailum.
Finally, four drugs were found in "significant" quantities: Codeine, an opiate, Ethinamate, largely prescribed at the time as a "sleeping pill," Quaaludes, and a barbituate, or depressant, that has never been identified.

It has also been rumored that Diazepam, Amytal, Nembutal, Carbrital, Sinutab, Elavil, Avental, and Valmid were found in his system at death.

The phrase "cardiac arrhythmia," in the context of the coroner's report, means little more than a stopped heart; the report initially tried to attribute the arrhythmia to cardiovascular disease, but Elvis' own personal physician has stated that Presley had no such chronic problems at the time. Most of Elvis' many health problems can and have been traced back to rampant abuse of prescription drugs.

Elvis had visited his dentist on August 15th to have a temporary crown put in; it has also been suggested that the codeine the dentist gave him that day resulted in an anaphylactic shock that assisted in his death. (He had suffered allergic reactions to the drug previously.)