At the age of 36, Elvis Presley had already won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He had a comprehensive array of trophies stowed away, the shine of gold glittering against hardwood walls, and countless memorabilia of his success in the music industry that seem to have been accumulated for so long. But all of them had been acquired within the scope of a career that was, in fact, still very young and promising.
Elvis Presley was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. A cultural icon, responsible for bringing rock ‘n’ roll into the mainstream of popular culture, who had established himself as its king. In spite of his worldwide popularity, there are still so many things about Elvis that even his most ardent fans are unaware of. Read on to learn more about the king of rock.
Almost all the greats we know used to be mocked when they were just starting up. Elvis Presley was no different. He was eccentric, and kids liked to laugh at him for playing “hillbilly music” whenever he strummed his guitar. He was shy and kept to himself — a stark contrast to the accomplished artist he would later become. Was he really so average?
Presley’s teacher even gave him a C in music in 8th grade. She went out of her way to confidently declare that he simply did not have the aptitude for singing at all. Thankfully, he apparently wasn’t a good listener either and refused to let her affect him. He refused to give up so easily.
Presley's Hair Wasn't Naturally Black
Elvis Presley had the moves, and with this came the graceful swing of his shiny black hair that people loved so much, looking wild and suave in magazine photographs. The color of his hair perfectly complemented his skin tone and accentuated his features, but you’d be surprised to learn it didn’t grow naturally black.
Presley deliberately had his hair dyed black to achieve an edgy effect. It was a gimmick of sorts that he had planned when he was very young. Startling as it may sound, he actually used black shoe polish to attain the exact color he wanted.
Elvis Wasn’t Interested in a Guitar
Elvis Presley didn’t always know he had it in him to be the greatest rock 'n' roller of all time. When he was young, he was just like other boys. He was more interested in owning a gun to shoot at cans in open fields. While we’re happy to report he developed an interest in the guitar, it’s interesting to note that he maintained a fascination with firearms for the rest of his life.
Thankfully, his mother insisted on giving him a guitar instead to distract him from the draw of owning a gun. It did the trick, as we all know by now, and when he picked up the guitar, he discovered this latent ability within him.
Elvis Only Ever Performed in North America
With Presley’s enormous popularity, one would think that he’d been around the world to perform for his fans. You couldn’t be more mistaken. As odd as it may seem, Elvis Presley never toured outside of North America.
His music resonated all around the globe only through records, radio, television, and in his movies. There was "Heartbreak Hotel" and "That’s All Right" to enjoy, while people hoped and prayed for him to travel and perform in their distant countries. He toured in Canada in 1957 but never ventured elsewhere. There are speculations as to why he never held international concerts, and most fingers point to his manager.
He Was Your Typical Soldier
Because his music was as heady as his personality was wild and unruly, not everyone would give Elvis Presley’s songs a chance. Some considered him a bad influence on the youth, a representation of what was wrong with society, something bad that was slowly creeping in.
But Presley would even win his haters over when he decided to halt his career to join the military. He was offered to enlist in Special Services to entertain, but he roundly rejected it to become just a regular soldier, and this practically disarmed the once-guarded crowd, finally affording him his due respect.
Elvis's Wife Was 14 When She Met Him
The army brought some wonderfully good tidings to Elvis Presley’s life. First, he was able to show the general public that he was quite a likable fellow, a celebrity who was down to earth and who shared most people’s sentiments about national issues.
On a personal level, though, the army gave him the opportunity to travel to Germany, where he would meet his soon-to-be wife, Priscilla Beaulieu. She was only 14 years old then. Presley, meanwhile, was 24, handsome, and wildly popular. How would she handle the pressure of scrutiny, the spotlight, and the incessant demands expected in celebrity life?
Dating The King Was Sometimes Hard for Priscilla
A fact that echoes through most celebrity relationships. And to think that Priscilla Beaulieu was so young when she first fell into the arms of a grown man, a star who was the focus of admiration from millions of girls, idolized by men who wanted to be just like him. It definitely must have been hard.
“I was kind of lost really in who I was earlier in my life, I really didn’t have teenage years,” Priscilla said. “I learned so much about him and was with him so much that I thought the way he did.” And she wasn’t the only one.
Elvis Never Spent a Night Alone
Shortly before Elvis Presley left the US to be deployed by the army in Germany, his mother passed away. The distance between them at the time made it tougher for Presley to take, and, sure enough, this gradually took a toll on him. Some say this was how Elvis came to develop the need to always be with someone at night. It was his way of coping with the waves of emotion that would otherwise hit in his solitude.
Thankfully, Priscilla was around to fill in the void his mother left. Priscilla’s presence reassured him of the value of life and bolstered him against loneliness. But so did another person in Priscilla’s absence.
Elvis Had Countless Romantic Interests
For many sought-after celebrities like Elvis Presley, who can have all they want or need when it comes to women, it seems hard to resist taking more than just “the one.” When he was still in Germany, still serving his country, he was serving someone else too.
Presley had a 16-year-old german girlfriend named Margret Burgin. His relationship with Burgin lasted only until he left for the States with Priscilla.
He Only Married Once
The king had earned a reputation of being a ladies’ man, and in many ways, he had validated this statement, but he was an emotional and romantic guy, too. He could have broken up with Priscilla and married another, saying that they were too young when they met or that their lifestyles had made them drift apart. But Elvis Presley only ever married one woman.
As perfect a couple as they appeared in public, we have come to understand that they were still as human and, therefore, as fallible as we are. They fought, cried, and made up. They did amazing things together, as all loving couples do.
Elvis Never Saw Priscilla Without Her Makeup
It is said, albeit tritely, that it takes a lifetime to really know your partner. But Elvis Presley’s idiosyncrasies made him coil at the thought of getting too close to his wife, afraid that the magic might get lost when all its elements have been fundamentally broken down and analyzed.
“He never wanted to see me getting dressed, he wanted to see the result of getting dressed,” Priscilla said. Elvis Presley didn’t want to see her without makeup, and he never did. That way, he could forever preserve the mystique, which was sort of a big deal to him.
Someone Else Had a Say in Their Getting Married
As big as Elvis Presley was back in the day, there was someone behind him making the bigger decisions. When the news surfaced about Presley’s relationship with Priscilla, Presley’s manager, Col. Tom Parker, has been rumored to have pulled the trigger and decided marriage was the best thing to do for the good of the king’s image.
It’s not like the couple was forced into something they didn’t want, but Parker’s role behind the scenes is put into the spotlight here. Things weren’t as easygoing and fun as the rock 'n' roll tunes Presley was belting out.
Elvis and Priscilla’s Child Made the King Take a Step Back
Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s marriage was rocked with troubles, the pair gradually distancing from each other and barely cohabiting. They slowly disintegrated from being the favorite couple to being down in the dregs.
Elvis Presley had more distractions from his marriage than any sane person could handle – the wild parties, substances, and all the women that made themselves available to him. It came as a surprise when Priscilla revealed that one of the main reasons their marriage deteriorated was what should’ve been a happy event: the birth of their child.
Elvis Had a Secret Phobia
Elvis Presley was a ruggedly handsome man. He was the king of rock ‘n’ roll, and part of his charm was being rough-hewn, dazzling, and confident. No one would ever think the world’s most popular rocker was actually a germaphobe.
Elvis was afraid of being contaminated with bacteria from other people’s homes. He couldn’t even handle using any crockery other than his own. Bizarre as it sounds, that’s how he was, Priscilla revealed. “He would drink where the handle was, knowing that no one would ever drink at that side.” Is this still the Elvis Presley we thought we knew?
Elvis Had a Pet Chimp
Ownership of an exotic animal perfectly fits the rocker persona, just like the fast cars, attractive women, grand mansions, and all-night partying. Why not add a strange beast into the mix? In Elvis’s case, he had a pet chimpanzee named Scatter. We’re not sure how Scatter got that name, but it was fitting.
The chimpanzee liked to run around the lawn of Elvis’s home, and he loved it even more when guests were over for an event. The king also taught Scatter a bunch of naughty tricks. Once, the cheeky monkey was caught doing something rude and was hit with an uppercut to the chin by one of Elvis’s lady guests.
The King Loved Firearms
It’s hard to tell, between firearms and guitars, what Elvis loved more. While he sure rocked hard on stage with his beloved instrument, guns could be found literally just about anywhere within his abode. Let’s just say he loved them equally.
Tom Jones recalls a time when he discovered one of Elvis’ guns casually discarded in his dressing room. His ex-girlfriend, Ginger Alden, recalls how the king, in one of his fits, deliberately shot at his TV set, obviously upset about something. It blew her mind!
He Didn't Control His Temper
By the time Elvis Presley was well into his accomplished career, his mind was starting to fall apart. The pressure must have been too much. After divorcing Priscilla and knowing she was having a relationship with another man, not knowing who his real buddies were — the anxiety and stress levels of his career were always increasing. These factors combined put an immense amount of pressure on the artist.
Guns are a way of relieving stress for some people. To have power in your hands can be somehow reassuring, a sort of relief. But the king had gone far beyond normalcy on the morning he decided it would be cool to fire his weapon at the headboard just to wake his ex-girlfriend up. That’s a bit too aggressive for a morning wake-up call!
An Illegal Immigrant Worked for Elvis for Years
Contrary to popular belief, Col. Tom Parker wasn’t an American-born citizen, nor was he naturalized after he moved to the United States. His real name was Andreas van Kuijk, and he made it big in the entertainment industry after he left the Netherlands. In fact, it can be argued that he was the most successful talent manager in history.
Elvis Presley had a particular liking for Parker. So much so that he even paid him more than his fair share. He got the job done, and that’s all that mattered to Elvis. That he was an illegal immigrant? Presley couldn’t have cared less.
The King Was Kind and Generous
Elvis Presley was overly giving to his friends and the people he cared about. To his manager, toward the end of his life, he had been far too generous, perhaps, agreeing to share 50% of his earnings. He essentially made him an equal partner — a move unheard of in the industry.
Presley had some wacky ways of expressing gratitude, and they usually involved some lavish spending. His gifts to his family were so expensive they would make the recipients feel guilty. Elvis was lovely that way. He was one of a kind, and rather than corrupting him, his fame only made him more generous and thoughtful.
The King Used to Dress Up as a Cop
The king of rock ‘n’ roll didn’t run out of ideas, especially when it came to expressing his gratitude to his fans. He acknowledged their importance to his career and how different his situation would be without them.
He liked to dress up as a cop and pretend to halt cars down the highway. He’d pretend to check for possible violations, grab a pen to write them an official ticket that turned out to be him just giving out a free autograph. The fans loved Presley. He was affable and funny, sometimes like a big kid. Believe it or not, he got a real badge later in life.
Presley Met President Nixon
Elvis Presley certainly had his moments of spontaneity. He was like a firework, except you really couldn’t guess for sure which direction or in which colors he would explode. One day, out of nowhere, Elvis suddenly had the urge to meet a very important man, no less than the president of the United States, Richard Nixon.
Nixon granted the king’s request, and oddly enough, during this meet-and-greet, Presley requested a federal narcotics badge for no apparent reason. Stranger still, then President Nixon granted this outlandish wish as if he needed no valid reason to have one issued. It was a bizarre event on more than one level.
The King's Favorite Sandwich
As we improve our position in life, our tastes for certain things change as well. We develop an eye for classier treats, appreciate subtlety, and find the sublime in things we once couldn’t grasp. Imagine how the king of rock ‘n’ roll evolved over his rapid ascent from small-town country boy to the biggest star in the world.
In terms of sandwiches, though, he simply would not settle for the common favorites like peanut butter and jelly or tuna. No, no, and no. The sandwich fit for a king is much more complex than your usual homemade ones. He would settle for nothing less than the eclectic mix of peanut butter, bacon, banana, and honey, sandwiched in lush, soft white bread.
Elvis Was Very Close to His Mother
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Elvis Presley was bullied for being a mama’s boy. The kids were right about one thing: Elvis and his mama were very close, and throughout his life, he always had high regard for her. He was in deep mourning when she died shortly before he was deployed to Germany.
While on the rise to fame, having earned much from his music records, Elvis had intended to buy his mansion in Graceland for his parents. Even after his mother passed away, he had a hard time letting go so he had her clothes and personal belongings safely kept there.
He Wanted the Perks of Religion
Somehow, religion and rock ‘n’ roll feel like an odd mix. Many Christians in Presley’s heyday described the two as mixing oil and water. It is not surprising that the king of the genre was not into religion himself. However, he did spend a lot of time pondering the matter.
He loved worldly things so much and imagined heaven would have to be an incredible experience he didn’t want to miss out on. Except he didn’t know which religion would get him there. For sure, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity due to a “technicality” and, therefore, would never use a cross or any other specific religious symbol. Rather, he maintained a neutral but interested position, hoping that would suffice.
Elvis Had Cosmetic Surgery
Like so many of his fellow artists, celebrities, and musicians, Elvis Presley was secretly concerned about his looks. He was the king, not lacking in talent, but as he aged, he gradually looked every bit of it, too. The formerly pristine star, whose success was built, at least in part, on his look, grew more jowly and flabby thanks to the abusive lifestyle, sleepless nights, and all the rest of it. He was concerned, among a mountain of other things, about his appearance.
At age 40, the king of rock decided to undergo surgery, according to his ex-girlfriend, Linda Thompson. Apart from the one and only facelift he’d ever undergo, he tried other ways to look younger, some that lay well outside his doctor’s recommendations. He risked many things just to hold onto the fading remnants of his youth.
Elvis Struggled to Remain Young
It seems, in the land of celebrity, that there are no lengths a star will not go to for a chance to be young again. Not to relive old memories, but to create new ones, to feel fresh, and to once again stand at the height of their fame and power.
Elvis Presley was no different. He fought a difficult battle to stay young and it ultimately became a desperate one. He battled with subscribed substances and weight issues. He was plump and ungainly and underwent a two-week sedation period in an attempt to counter it. During this time, he’d only rise from bed to eat minimal portions of food and use the bathroom.
The Time Elvis Could Hardly Eat
The king of rock, at a later stage in his life, didn’t look kingly at all. He was standing but down for the count, able to be knocked off his feet by the slightest bump. He had put his body through too much, stubbornly self-medicating, much to his doctor’s chagrin. Every solution he came up with just dug his hole deeper, and he refused to listen to the advice of professionals.
For a while there, Elvis could barely eat, sometimes even falling asleep during meals. His stepbrother, David Stanley, would often have to help him out in finishing his food. This was a rough and sensitive period for Elvis, but he did his best to tough it out.
Elvis Called President Carter
Elvis Presley was not the king of rock for nothing. He had connections, which meant power. He was granted a meeting with former president Nixon purely on the basis of a whim. Now, armed with his federal narcotics badge, Elvis had another flash of insight. He wanted another presidential audience, this time with Jimmy Carter.
His plan ended up as a telephone call instead, with President Carter on the other end, struggling to get what the slurring voice was trying to say. Elvis wanted him to pardon a friend who was undergoing legal troubles, and for whatever reason, he felt validated in making such a request. Former President Carter was patient and polite enough to listen, but that was as far as it went.
Elvis's Modest Funeral
After the king of rock’s tragic and untimely death, the world went into a state of mourning. However, at his funeral, there were no long lines of limousines nor shaded Hollywood A-listers. It was a modest, family affair. Considering what Elvis Presley achieved for himself and the music industry as a whole, how he changed the rock ‘n’ roll landscape, opening it up to mainstream pop culture, his funeral was more like that of a simpler, mildly successful man.
Three celebrities we do know attended were: George Hamilton, Ann Margret, and James Brown. It was low-key, somewhat reminiscent of the life of the boy who once lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his beloved mother.
Graceland After Elvis
It was a sad day when the news came of Elvis Presley’s death. A musical genius, a legendary rocker, had passed away, never to be seen nor heard of in person again. It was August 16, 1977, and the scandals were waiting to happen. One of them surrounded the financial troubles that had nagged the Graceland property.
Bankers wanted it liquidated to clear up some of the singer’s accounts, but Priscilla Presley had a better suggestion, one that actually worked. She ordered it to be opened up to the public, and it became a US National Historic Landmark. People paid up to re-acquaint themselves with the legend, and it continues to generate money to this day. Elvis, as it turns out, wasn’t the only genius in the family.
A Very Wrong Comparison
While Elvis Presley was making history as a young and enthused musician, with all the newest ideas, and never-before-seen acts on stage, not everyone thought it was acceptable. Many from the older generation of artists wanted nothing to do with the Presley-inspired developments, as they felt they would only undermine the future of music.
The king of rock and his most ardent followers were likened to the German regime that was in power at the time and its rabid political devotees in one of their rallies. The comparison was thought to malign Elvis and his crowd for their supposed poor choice of music. A truly outrageous comparison indeed.
Elvis Always Used High Collars
It may be hard to believe that the king of rock ‘n’ roll himself would have a ton of insecurities. Indeed, he kept them well hidden, with most only revealed after his death by his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Thompson. In her 2016 memoir, "A Little Thing Called Life," Thompson revealed the reason behind Presley’s regular rocking of high collars.
She says the king was insecure about his neck and wanted it covered whenever he was on stage. He referred to it as a “skinny little chicken neck,” an impression he got from his parents when they used to tease him about it as a kid. It’s amazing the power a few throwaway words can have on a person.
The King Had a Stillborn Twin
If Elvis Presley’s twin had survived, we wonder how it could have impacted the king, perhaps mediating at least some of the many poor decisions Presley made throughout his career. Would he have saved him from making bad turns; could he have vicariously understood his pain? Many such questions regarding his twin brother, Jesse Garon, a stillborn, haunted Elvis.
Elvis tried to search but never found Jesse's resting place. He’d died without a funeral. They lived through rough times in Mississippi, and Presley’s father, Vernon, decided to fit his brother’s small body in a shoe box, burying the tiny parcel in an unmarked grave.
Presley Often Spoke in Baby Talk to His Mother
Elvis Presley used to be very close to his mother growing up. They would maintain that emotional propinquity throughout his teenage years and adult life until his mom passed away. How close they were wasn’t anything too unusual, although he did like to communicate through baby talk, calling her pet names, which Gladys would mutually respond to.
Psychologists speculate that this could be behind the distance that developed between Elvis and Priscilla after they bore a son. Becoming a parent himself, and seeing his wife become a mother, likely made him painfully aware of the black hole in his life, the space his mother had once occupied.
Elvis Didn't Write the Song “Hound Dog”
Critics quickly draw attention to the fact that Elvis was not responsible for penning the song “Hound Dog,” which he made so famous. They went so far as to accuse him of stealing the credit from Big Mamma Thornton, who originally recorded the song back in 1953. Elvis’ rendition of it came out in 1958.
This was hardly fair because the song was released at a time when renditions were common practice. There wasn’t a song that exclusively belonged to a single artist in the 50s. In fact, “Hound Dog” was penned by famous songwriters Jerry Leiber and Michael Stoller. Big Mamma was just the first artist to officially sing it on record.
He Has Become a Popular Password
It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. Future scenarios materialize into the present, bringing events you would never have imagined to happen to you at an earlier point in life. Some things you can see your responsibility for, while others seem random.
Elvis Presley’s legacy in music transcends the boundaries of genre and style. He changed the scene forever, opening doors to new ways of expression that just weren’t acceptable before he took to the stage. Imagine how much he could have attained had he not messed up his life and lived to fully exhaust his talents. Many of his fans refused to let him drift into the past without taking a piece of him with them and passing it on to the generations that follow. One small way of holding onto his memory cropped up when computers became a household staple. The name “Elvis” is still a popular inclusion in passwords.
The King Dyed His Eyelashes
Elvis Presley’s shiny black hair made him look debonair, a shade of mystery afloat his deep rhythmic voice and sparkling blue eyes. Very few people knew, except those close to him, old friends from Mississippi perhaps, that he was blonde.
This meant he had to dye not just his hair but his eyelashes to look natural. And, since his true hair color was one of his best-kept secrets, there was no way he was prepared to do it in a parlor or anywhere other than the privacy of his home. This ended up being yet another habit that caused him health problems later on, as he concocted his dying techniques himself without expert advice on the matter.
A VIP Hairdresser
The king of rock knew the importance of his hair color and style and what role it played in keeping up his popularity. He was very finicky when it came to his looks, and so he took care of his hair like a king would his crown.
Only one man was trusted to trim it, and his designated hairdresser had to be plucked from his family’s history, being his mother’s hairdresser when she was alive. Mr. Gill was a loyal man, having served the Presleys for some time. He was willing to travel anywhere at Elvis’s beck and call. This kind of hairdresser didn’t seem odd at all... until we learned he’d kept trimmings of the legend’s hair and auctioned them after his death.
He Was a Big Fan of Johnny Cash
The king of rock had a mountain of talent and creativity constantly flowing through him. He was also a guy who knew how to appreciate the beauty of other artists that surrounded him. He knew Johnny Cash was a load of talent himself: a country music icon, actor, author, and guitarist, just like Elvis. As it turned out, Cash was equally impressed by Presley’s talents.
This mutual appreciation quickly bloomed into a bromance between these two cultural icons, the two trying even to impersonate each other, a manifestation of mutual respect and adoration. Both would take part in impromptu jamming sessions – called “the Million Dollar Quartet” – along with Jerry Lee Lewis in 1956, at Sun Record Studios, in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Book That Killed Elvis Presley
Wealth and fame can be very tricky things to juggle, as Elvis Presley would realize late in his life. He used to be a simple country boy, naïve and shy, who only wanted to share his talents with the world. He wasn’t always zany, though he sometimes appeared so, and he was too trustful of the people he employed to protect him, who clustered around him wherever he went.
A fortnight before Presley’s death, the shrinking star was already weak, in a terminal condition. Three of his former bodyguards were privy to this and many other secrets. The trio wasted no time cashing in on his rise and fall, penning the book "Elvis: What Happened?". The telling tome contained deeply private matters that the king had tried his hardest to keep away from the prying public. He tried to stop its publication to no avail, and the stress of it only exacerbated his ailments: an enlarged colon, glaucoma, blood pressure, and liver damage. It was a nail in the coffin, sadly consummated by people who were in a position to do it because of the late singer's trust.