In the looming shadow of the summer blockbuster motion picture “Elvis”, it occurred to us that this would be a good time to share a couple of dozen of the least known things about The King and his life
This fully attributed article was written by the accredited and degreed veteran investigative reporter Kurt Dillon and is comprised of information compiled from the following sources: The History Channel, The Internet Movie Database, The Elvis Presley Archive at Graceland, Wikipedia.com, and History.com
1. Elvis bought Graceland when he was 22.
In 1957, Elvis shelled out a whopping $102,500 for Graceland, the Memphis mansion that served as his home and safe place for the next two decades.
The sprawling mansion sits on just under 14 acres. Construction was finished in 1939 by Dr. Thomas Moore and his wife Ruth on land that once was part of a 500-acre farm that was originally named Graceland in honor of the original owner’s daughter, Grace, who was Ruth Moore’s great-aunt.
When Elvis purchased the property, he liked the name so much, that he decided to keep the name. Elvis made a number of updates to the property over the years, most notably the addition of music-themed iron entrance gates, the now-infamous “jungle room” complete with an indoor waterfall, and a racquetball building.
As an interesting twist, once “The King” learned that President Lyndon Johnson enjoyed watching all three network news programs at the same time, Elvis decided to have a wall of built-in TVs installed in the house.
Five years after Elvis died in the master bathroom at Graceland, in 1982, his ex-wife Priscilla Presley, who held control of the property until their only daughter Lisa-Marie became old enough to inherit it on her 25th birthday, decided to open the estate to the public for tours. Today, an average of 600,000 enthusiastic fans manage to migrate to the iconic mansion every year.
Lisa Marie inherited Graceland when she turned 25, in 1993, and continues to operate it to this day. As an interesting aside, it was in 2006 that President George W. Bush became the first sitting President to visit Graceland. He traveled there with the Japanese Prime Minister, who, as it turns out, is a die-hard Elvis fan.
2. Elvis bought Franklin Roosevelt’s presidential yacht.
In 1964, Elvis paid $55,000 for the 165-foot-long vessel that served as FDR’s “floating White House” from 1936 to 1945. The Potomac was constructed in 1934 and was originally commissioned as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.
After the president’s death in 1945, the ship was decommissioned and had a series of owners before Elvis bought it. Elvis didn’t keep the vessel log, eventually donating it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which, in turn, sold it to raise money to treat seriously ill children.
Later, In 1980, The Potomac was being used by drug smugglers and was unceremoniously seized in San Francisco by U.S. Customs officials. It was eventually completely restored and opened to the public as a floating museum, which is the capacity in which it serves to this day.
Elvis’ act of donating the yacht was only one of many charitable acts he would make during his life. In addition to giving away cars, jewelry, and cash to friends and strangers, he performed many charity benefit concerts.
One such performance, in 1961, generated more than $50,000 toward the completion of the USS Arizona, Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii. The project was a tribute to the more than 1,100 men who died aboard the USS Arizona during the infamous December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. It had begun years earlier but was halted due to a lack of funds. Elvis’ USS Arizona charity concert sold tickets that ranged in price from $3 to $100, and immediately helped reinvigorate fund-raising efforts for the memorial. The design was complete and the memorial was finally dedicated about a year later.
3. Elvis had a twin.
On January 8, 1935, Elvis Aron (only later was it changed to Aaron) Presley was born at his parents’ two-room house in East Tupelo, Mississippi. About 35 minutes later, his identical twin brother, Jesse Garon, arrived stillborn. The next day, Jesse was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby Priceville Cemetery.
Elvis spoke frequently about his twin throughout his life. His parents never had any other children and Elvis grew up an only child in a poor family. His father, Vernon supported the family by working a series of odd jobs, but in 1938, he was sentenced to three years in prison for forging a $4 check. He would ultimately spend less than a year behind bars.
In 1948, the Presleys moved from Tupelo to Memphis in search of better opportunities. Once there, Elvis attended Humes High School where he failed a music class and was considered to be a ‘quiet outsider’.
He graduated in 1953, becoming the first member of his immediate family to earn a high school diploma. After graduation, he worked at a machinist shop and drove a truck before launching his music career with the July 1954 recording of “That’s All Right.”
4. Elvis paraphernalia was burned in effigy after his 2nd appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
In the summer of 1956, Colonel Parker arranged a deal for Elvis to make three appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for a then-staggering fee of $50,000. Sullivan had previously said he would never book the gyrating, lip-curling singer on his uber-family-oriented TV variety show. His attitude changed however after competitor Steve Allen featured Elvis on his show in July 1956 and absolutely slaughtered Sullivan’s show in the ratings.
When Elvis made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was September 9, 1956, and a mind-blowing 60 million people—more than 80 percent of the TV viewing audience at that time—tuned in.
Unfortunately for Sullivan, he had been injured in a car accident that August and was unable to host the show that featured Elvis’ premier appearance. After the singer made his second appearance in October, crowds in Nashville and St. Louis, were so outraged by Elvis’ unorthodox ‘sexy’ performance, and so concerned that rock music would corrupt America’s youth, that they burned and hanged Elvis paraphernalia in effigy.
Presley made his final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1957. This time, network censors demanded he be filmed only from the waist up. Despite this requirement, at the end of the program, Sullivan gave the Elvis a special nod, telling the audience the singer was “a real decent, fine boy,” and letting him know that “we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you.”
5. Elvis’ controversial manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was a former carnival barker.
Born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in the Netherlands in 1909, Elvis’s future manager immigrated illegally to America as a young man, where he reinvented himself as Tom Parker and claimed to be from West Virginia. The actual genesis of his roots wasn’t known for certain until the 1980s.
The man now known as Parker worked as a pitchman for traveling carnivals. He also had a couple of stints as a dog catcher and pet cemetery founder, among other occupations. He then managed the careers of several country music singers. In 1948, Parker finagled the honorary title of ‘colonel’ from the governor of Louisiana and henceforth insisted on being referred to as the Colonel.
After learning about the up-and-coming ‘Elvis Presley' in 1955, Parker negotiated the sale of the singer’s contract with tiny Sun Records to RCA, a major label. He then officially took over as his manager in 1956. Under the Colonel’s guidance, Elvis shot to stardom. His first single for RCA, “Heartbreak Hotel,” was released in 1956.
It became the first hit of his career to sell more than 1 million copies and his debut album, “Elvis Presley,” topped Billboard’s pop album charts. Elvis also made his big-screen debut in 1956’s “Love Me Tender.”
The chubby, cigar-smoking Parker controlled Elvis’ career for the next two decades, helping him achieve enormous success while at the same time taking commissions of as much as 50 percent of the entertainer’s earnings.
He drew more than a little criticism from observers who believed ‘The Colonel’ was stifling Elvis creatively. Parker outlived his protégé by 20 years, dying in 1997 at the age of 87 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
6. Elvis never performed outside of North America.
An estimated 40 percent of Elvis’ music sales have been outside the United States; however, with the exception of a handful of concerts he gave in Canada in 1957, he never performed on foreign soil.
A number of sources have suggested that Elvis’ manager, Colonel Parker, turned down lucrative offers for the singer to perform abroad because Parker was an illegal immigrant and feared he wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S. if he traveled overseas.
7. Elvis served in the Army after he was already famous.
In December 1957, Elvis, by then a major star, was drafted into the U.S. Army. After receiving a short deferment so he could wrap up production on his film “King Creole.” Shortly after, the 23-year-old was inducted into the Army as a private on March 24, 1958, amidst major media coverage.
Assigned to the Second Armored Division, he attended basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. That August, while still at Fort Hood, he was granted emergency leave to visit his beloved mother, who was in poor health. Gladys Presley passed away at age 46 on August 14, 1958.
The following month, Elvis shipped out for an assignment with the Third Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany, where he served as a jeep driver and continued to receive stacks of fan mail.
While in Germany, he lived off base with his father and grandmother Minnie Mae Presley. It was also during this time that Elvis met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of a U.S. Air Force captain.
After a lengthy courtship, Elvis and Priscilla married in 1967, though the couple would later divorce in 1973. Elvis was honorably discharged from active duty in March 1960, having achieved the rank of sergeant. His first post-Army movie, “G.I. Blues,” was released in November of that same year.
The film’s soundtrack spent 10 weeks at the top of the Billboard album music chart and remained on the chart for a total of 111 weeks, the longest of any album in Elvis’ career.
8. Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship would have been illegal today
Priscilla Beaulieu was indeed young when Elvis set his sights on her. Nevertheless, they went on to marry, and she was the only woman Elvis ever took vows with.
Life was a whirlwind for the teenager as she came of age married to the most coveted man in the world.
“I was kind of lost really in who I was earlier in my life, I really didn’t have teenage years,” she later said. “I learned so much about him and was with him so much that I thought the way he did.”
Priscilla was only 14 years old when the two met — Elvis was 24.
9. Elvis was really shy
At age 11, Elvis’ mother got him a guitar. She wanted to keep his fingers stringing instruments instead of pulling triggers, though she was only delaying his affinity for guns for a short time.
It may surprise some to learn that the ultimate performer was exceptionally shy when he grew up. He learned to play the guitar as soon as he got it and started singing too. He was so good at singing that when he was 12 years old, a local radio station offered him a chance to sing on one of their shows, but he turned the opportunity down for a reason that’s very un-Elvis: he was too nervous.
10. He was turned down after an audition when he was 19
When Elvis was 19 years old, he auditioned to join a gospel quartet called Songfellows. In a move the judging panel probably later regretted, they turned him down. But that ended up working out for all of us because Elvis had already started recording songs.
The previous year, Elvis recorded his first song. He paid $4 to have the song tracked. It was a gift for his mother. At that point, Elvis was in Memphis, Tennessee. His family moved there when he was 13 years old. In 1954, the same year he auditioned for the Songfellows, he was about to make an already budding music scene in Memphis rock and roll.
11. Elvis used shoe polish to make his hair black
As legend has it, a local DJ played Elvis’ “That’s All Right” 14 times in one day. The Memphis listeners loved it, but the only problem was they didn’t believe Elvis was white. The only thing black about Elvis was his hair, and he used shoe polish to make that happen.
By 1955, Elvis was rising, but nowhere near the household name status he enjoys today. That year, he bought a 1955 Fleetwood Series 60 Cadillac (his second Cadillac). He gave it to his mother who didn’t even have a driver’s license. That didn’t stop him from touring in it with Scotty Moore and Bill Black in 1955 and 1956.
You can view that pink Cadillac today at Graceland12.
12. He didn’t write any of his songs
The King’s breakout hit was actually an ominous song about a man who jumped out of a window in a hotel in Kentucky. The name of that single was “Heartbreak Hotel” and it was released in 1956. It became his first million-dollar seller, and just like every other song he released, he didn’t write it.
“Heartbreak Hotel” has simple guitar strings, but it’s catchy, and Elvis’ voice shows its range from high-pitched whaling, down to his iconic low tone. While the sound certainly caught everyone’s ears, it was really when their eyes saw him move about on TV with his fast-moving, suggestive hips that his popularity really soared.13.
13. “Elvis the Pelvis”
We may know Elvis as the King, and as much as it deserves to be a title for him, it’s a nickname. While it’s the one that stuck through time, there were a few other nicknames before he was crowned eternally. His first nickname came after a performance of “Hound Dog” on live TV.
Elvis uncharacteristically didn’t perform with his guitar, and that was at the request of host Milton Berle who said, “Let ‘em see you, son.” Elvis rocked that stage, gyrating his hips as he sashayed around the microphone stand. The performance affected the audience so profoundly that he was immediately dubbed “Elvis the Pelvis.”
14. Elvis helped eradicate polio
In 1955 a scientist named Jonas Salk finally invented a cure for one of the world’s worst diseases — polio. But after a year, doctors were still having trouble getting teenagers to take the vaccine. They needed someone they loved to take it and do it in a very public way.
Prior to his performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis posed for the press and got a polio vaccine from doctors. A photo like the one above was published in the New York Times the next day. Incidents of the of disease went down 90% between 1950 and 1960. Nice job Elvis!
15. Elvis was really into karate
Elvis would’ve been a great soldier to serve with, and his generosity gained him fantastic fanfare. He bought everyone in his unit an extra set of fatigues and donated all of his army salary to charity. He wasn’t just a music star anymore: He was turning into America’s son. Women loved him and men wanted to be him.
While in the Army, Elvis also got seriously into karate and studied the fighting style of Chito-Ryu by his instructor Hank Slemansky. Elvis would take the stage after his tour and use his moves during his acts. Before he left Germany in 1960, he was so good that he received his black belt.
16. “Little Elvis”
Elvis never did like spending the night alone, much to the chagrin of Priscilla. While in Germany Priscilla might’ve been his girlfriend, but the King had many love interests. That included a 19-year-old Elisabeth Stefaniak, who he originally hired to handle his fan mail. She uh, ended up handling a bit more than his mail.
“Little Elvis” as the King used to refer to his manhood, was rarely alone. When Sergeant Presley was discharged in March of 1960, his return journey home saw the train he was riding mobbed at every stop from New Jersey to Tennessee.
17. The Elvis Sandwich
Elvis was a big-time fan of food, and given how his body looked toward the end of his life it’s not a hard fact to believe. It’s more what he ate that was his downfall than how he ate it. He was fond of the “Fool’s Gold Loaf” of bread, which was hollowed out and stuffed with peanut butter, jelly, and a pound of bacon.
He was such a fan of peanut butter that he had his favorite variation of the sandwich named after him. His grandmother later shared her recipe in a cookbook: Two slices of bread, peanut butter, sliced banana, and bacon. No judgment here, as that just sounds incredible.
18. Elvis’ manager was an illegal immigrant
The idea to get married was another one suggested by Colonel Parker. He was always extremely conscious of the King’s image and went to great lengths to ensure that Elvis was well received. He thought the union would make Elvis more popular with the public and pushed for Elvis and Priscilla to get married.
Lesser known was the fact that Parker was an illegal immigrant from Holland. Elvis never once did a European tour, and only played in Canada for a handful of days during his career. It’s rumored that Elvis didn’t travel abroad because Parker would’ve been deported if he applied for a passport, and they weren’t going to risk that.
19. Falling from fame took a huge toll on him
Elvis was a successful film star, but his absence from the music scene saw his celebrity wane. Other major bands such as The Beatles, Queen, and The Rolling Stones were topping the charts and rock and roll had exploded onto the mainstream -- in large part due to him. The King wasn’t about to sit back and watch his throne be taken.
According to reports, sometime around 1968, Elvis took a walk down a busy Los Angeles street and no one recognized him. He had come a long way from girls fainting and crying when they saw him. It was enough to cause him to relaunch his career, which he did with his television concert titled “Elvis.”
20. Elvis was granted a badge as a narcotics agent
Elvis was back at the top, at least for a little while. He had always dabbled in drug use over the years, and by the mid-1960s, he used prescription pills regularly. His drug use was beginning to show its effects on him, which made his meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1970 all the more awkward.
Elvis met Nixon in the Oval Office of the White House and had an odd request for the president. He asked the president if he would grant him a badge as a narcotics agent. This seems like an outrageous request, except for the fact that the President granted his wish, despite his lack of training.
21. Elvis liked to dress up as a police officer and pull people over
Giving Elvis a badge was probably a bad idea. He loved to dress up as a police officer and pull people (mainly women) over to give them his autograph, being the first person in uniform to hand someone a “ticket” and say, “you’re welcome.”
Those autographs were worth something too, so rather than paying, the unsuspecting motorist was coming up!
Priscilla is said to have disapproved of the practice, and a lot of other aspects of the King’s life. In 1972, the two were divorced, much to the delight of women across the country.
It’s rumored that Elvis would allow “good-looking girls” to enter Graceland after hours, and one night, there were 152 ladies (ahem) waiting outside!
22. Eyelash dye did him dirty
By the time Elvis was divorced, he was 37 years old. He was no longer the young buck with the boyish good looks and his fast-paced lifestyle was taking its toll on both his mental and physical health. Elvis went to great lengths to keep his appearance as youthful as possible.
The King was no longer using shoe polish to keep his hair black. For that, he used Miss Clairol 51 D, “Black Velvet.” He even died his eyelashes, which reportedly led to health complications later in his life. But Elvis still had one act to play in the city referred to as ‘America’s playground.’
23. Elvis wasn’t initially welcome in Vegas
Music critics despised Elvis Presley when he first showed up in rock-and-roll-laden Las Vegas in 1956. It wasn’t quite the swinging sixties yet, and the town was still owned by Rat Pack senior member Frank Sinatra. The WWII generation wasn’t quite ready for the hip-shaking King, but he rolled in any way.
A Las Vegas Sun writer said, “As he stands up there clutching his guitar, he shakes and shivers like he is suffering from itchy underwear and hot shoes.”
By the 70s, the generations had changed and ‘The King’ made Vegas his home base. Elvis was Vegas, and Vegas was Elvis.
24. Some people believe Elvis faked his own death
Elvis left the building for good on the night of August 16, 1977, at the age of 42 in the master bathroom of Graceland.
Mystery swirls around his death and theories live on to this day — that he faked his death to escape fame (a common thread with musical legends, such as Tupac and Jim Morrison). But Elvis’ lifestyle had finally caught up to him as he died of a heart attack, and toxicology reports indicate over a dozen different drugs in his system.
The King had recorded over 600 songs in his career. He is believed to be the most impersonated person in human history. He broke down barriers that paved the way for future rock and rollers and lived one hell of a life in the process. There’s been no one like him before or since.
Long live the King!
Reported by Investigative Reporter Kurt Dillon - Because the Truth Matters!