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.
Birth and upbringing
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of Vernon Elvis Presley and Gladys Love Smith Presley. He was raised both in Tupelo and later in Memphis, Tennessee, where his family moved when he was 13. He had a twin brother (Jesse Garon Presley) who died at birth. The young Elvis took up guitar at 11 and, after high school, worked at Precision Tool Company and then drove a truck for the Crown Electric Company.
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 In an as-yet-unpublished book, Morrison claims to have found that his ancestors lived in Lonmay, Aberdeenshire in the 1700s.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.
His maternal grandmother was Jewish.
In the summer of 1953 he paid $4 to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates at Sun Studios. The demo consisted of "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," popular ballads of the time. While Presley claimed to have recorded the demo as a birthday present for his mother, this is probably untrue, since Gladys Presley's birthday was in April and he recorded the acetate in July. Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and assistant Marion Keisker heard the discs and, recognizing Presley's nascent talent, called him in June 1954 to fill in for a missing ballad singer. Although the session did not prove fruitful, Sam put Elvis together with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black to see what might develop. During a rehearsal break on July 5, 1954, Elvis started fooling around with a song called "That's All Right" and Sam hit the record button, thinking Elvis may have found his niche. The resulting single, backed with Elvis' hopped-up version of the country song "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", was a huge local hit in Memphis after WHBQ aired it two days later, and regular touring started to expand his fame beyond Tennessee.
Elvis recorded five singles while at Sun, all credited to Elvis Presley - The Hillbilly Cat. Most of these were covers of rhythm and blues or country and western hits.
These singles garnered Elvis increasing attention both for his music and for the rioting girls that were becoming a staple of his live performances. The last of the Sun singles, "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" b/w "Mystery Train", went to #1 on the Country music Singles chart. During this period Elvis toured incessantly throughout the south and southwest, also appearing 50 times on the regional show Louisiana Hayride (his first appearance was on March 3, 1955). Hayride founder and producer Horace Logan had shrewdly signed Elvis to weekly appearances after noting the audience reaction to the then-unknown singer. It was during Elvis' last appearance on the Hayride that Logan announced, "Elvis has left the building", desperate to quell the screaming teenagers trying to reach Elvis as he exited the stage. The phrase has been popularized and is commonly used in joking reference to many, often unimportant, events being over as if they were as popular as an Elvis concert.
Elvis signed with RCA Records on November 21, 1955. On January 27, 1956 the single "Heartbreak Hotel" / "I Was the One" was released. It was the sixth single of his career. Unlike the previous singles, this one did chart, reaching #1 in April 1957.
Over the next twenty-one years, until his death in 1977, Elvis had 146 Hot 100 hits, 112 top 40 hits, 72 top 20 hits and 40 top 10 hits; all of these are the most anyone has yet achieved. "Don't Be Cruel" and "Hound Dog" topped the pop, black and country charts in 1956. A string of hit records followed as the public's desire for his product seemed insatiable.
On January 28, 1956 Presley made his national television debut by appearing on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, beginning his transition to teen idol. Now recording for RCA, and under the management of (honorary) Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time on February 22 with "Heartbreak Hotel" and on April 21 that year the same song hit number one. His June 5, 1956 introduction of his next single, "Hound Dog", on The Milton Berle Show, scandalized the audience with his suggestive hip movements. After a string of other TV appearances, he made his first appearance on the top-rated Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, earning the show a record 52–60 million viewers (82.6% of viewership that night). Presley had dyed his sandy blond hair jet black by the time of his second Sullivan performance on October 28 of the same year. On his third and final Sullivan appearance (January 6, 1957) Sullivan bowed to pressure from moralists and ordered Presley to be filmed only from the waist up due to his customary suggestive hip movements.
On January 20, 1958 Presley received a draft notice for a 2-year tour with the United States Army. He served in Germany, where he drove a jeep for Sgt. Ira Jones, and was honorably discharged on March 5, 1960. Many have since wondered why an only child – by then the sole support of his parents and grandmother – was drafted during peacetime, since his services were clearly not critical for the defense of his country. It has long been suspected that Elvis' draft notice was either politically instigated to shunt his "dangerous", "race-mixing" influence, or quietly encouraged by his manager in order to keep the increasingly world-wise Southern lad under his thumb. While in the army, he received a black belt in karate.
Beginning with Love Me Tender (opened on November 15, 1956), Presley starred in 31 motion pictures, having signed to multiple long-term contracts on the advice of his manager. 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. Elvis was praised by all his directors, including the highly respected Michael Curtiz, as unfailingly polite and extremely hardworking.
The movies Jailhouse Rock (1957), King Creole (1958), and Flaming Star (1960) are widely regarded as his best among film critics. Among fans, Blue Hawaii (1961) and Viva Las Vegas (1964) are highly praised.
Between 1956 and 1969, Presley starred in 31 films. For details, see the List of Elvis Presley films.
Return to recording and live shows
The 1960s saw the quality of Presley's recorded output drop, although he was still capable of creating records equal to his best and did so on the infrequent occasions where he was presented with decent material at his movie recording sessions. With this drop-off, and in the face of the social upheaval of the 1960s and the British Invasion spearheaded by The Beatles, Presley's star faded slightly before a triumphant TV comeback special on NBC (aired on December 3, 1968) that saw him return to his rock and roll roots. His 1969 return to live performances, first in Las Vegas and then across the country, was noted for the constant stream of sold-out shows, with many setting attendance records in the venues where he performed.
His most successful concert was the Elvis Aloha Concert in Hawaii, which was broadcast worldwide via satellite in January 1973. It was a milestone for Presley's career and his biggest audience to date.
Presley was deeply religious, raised in the Pentecostal faith. He recorded several gospel albums. His three Grammy awards are all for gospel music. In his later years, his live stage performances almost always included a rendition of "How Great Thou Art."
From the beginning of his career, Elvis was a sex symbol who sent legions of women swooning. He had a string of girlfriends, before and after he became famous, including celebrities such as Mamie Van Doren, Natalie Wood, Tuesday Weld, Cybill Shepherd, Barbra Streisand, and Ann-Margret.
On May 1, 1967 he married Priscilla Anne Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Priscilla had been the step-daughter of Presley's commanding officer in Germany during his Army stint. Incredibly, Elvis managed to talk Priscilla's mother and step-father into allowing the underaged girl to live with him at Graceland. In her autobiography, Priscilla recounted how Elvis would stay up all night and sleep most of the day; if he wanted to go out, he'd rent out the venue so no fans would bother him. Although he would spend hours alone with her in her bedroom, Priscilla wrote that Elvis never made any advances toward her. Indeed, their wedding night was the first—and only—time they were intimate; their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months later on February 1, 1968. After their divorce in 1973, Lisa lived with Priscilla.
Elvis: The Hollywood Years, a 2002 biography by David Bret, claims the King was gay. Bret says Colonel Tom Parker "held secret information about a homosexual affair between Elvis and actor Nick Adams over his head like a sword. He made it clear that... if Elvis didn't toe the line, he'd let it get out. At that time, it could well have ruined his career. That is why Parker had so much control over him." Many journalists' attempts to "out" Elvis in the past were thwarted by his manager. In her book The Intimate Life and Death of Elvis, Dee Presley, the king's stepmother, also says that Elvis had sexual encounters with men and mentions his affair with Nick Adams.
After seven years off the top of the charts, Presley's song "Suspicious Minds" hit No. 1 on the Billboard music charts on November 1, 1969. This was the last time any song by Presley hit #1 while he was still alive, although "Burning Love" got as high as #2 in September 1972. The mid-1970s saw Elvis becoming increasingly isolated, battling an addiction to prescription drugs and the resulting toll on his appearance, health and performances. Elvis made his last live concert appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.
Death and burial
He died at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977 and is now buried on its grounds. He was only 42 years old. Originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, his tomb was eventually moved to Graceland after an attempted theft of his body. Numerous examinations of his death by medical personnel have not resulted in a final public cause of death; causes most often cited are polypharmacy (drug mixing) or heart disease exacerbated by his drug use. According to popular legend, however, Elvis did not die in 1977, and may continue to be alive.