30 Facts You Didn’t Know About Elvis Presley
Think you know Elvis? The King is one of the most polarizing figures in music and left behind a treasure trove of vintage photos, vivid stories and viral hits to prove it. From wild spending habits to the way he liked his women (as his wife, Priscilla reveals), Elvis Presley was one of a kind. But there was more to the King than gyrating hips and all-white suits. These are 30 little known facts rarely told about of The King of Rock and Roll.
Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship would have been illegal today
Priscilla Beaulieu was indeed young when Elvis set his sites on her, but 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.
He had a twin
Elvis Presley, the undisputed King of rock ‘n roll, was born on January 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Evidently, there was another king, as Elvis was born a twin, but his brother didn’t make it through the complicated birth that forced his mother to go to the hospital.
As a result, his mother never had another child, and she became very attached to her young, future monarch of music. They were so close that when she died in 1958, it’s reported that funeral guests became uncomfortable with the extreme amount of sorrow shown by Elvis. Others say he was never the same after she died.
Elvis was really shy
There’s an age-old question in America: Rifle or guitar?
Eventually, Elvis would choose both. But at age 11, his mother got the guitar instead of the rifle. She wanted to keep his fingers stringing instruments instead of pulling triggers (though she was only delaying his affinity for guns for the time being).
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 scared.
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, and it was a gift for his mother. By now Elvis was in Memphis, Tennessee after 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.
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. In that same year, he bought a ’55 Fleetwood Series 60 Cadillac (his second Cadillac). He gave it to his mother who didn’t even have a driver’s license, but that didn’t stop him from touring in it with Scotty Moore and Bill Black in 1955 and 1956. You can view the pink Cadillac today at Graceland.
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 single’s name 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 own low tone. While the sound certainly caught everyone’s ears, it was really when their eyes saw him move about on TV. His fast-moving, suggestive hips bumped shock-waves around the world.
“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.”
Elvis’ first album spent 10 weeks in the #1 spot
Elvis gained another short-lived nickname that stuck around about as long as Jell-O nailed to a wall. We can all be happy that the “Atomic Powered Singer” didn’t stick and understand that a nickname like that came from the United States at the height of its nuclear testing and in the group think of the Cold War.
Speaking of bombs going off, Elvis Presley soared into the stratosphere with his debut album “Elvis Presley.” It was the first rock and roll album to go number one, and it stayed there for an astonishing ten weeks in 1956. Elvis had hit the ground running and was a star right off the bat.
Elvis starred in over 30 movies
Also in 1956 “Elvis the Pelvis,” and the “Atomic Powered Singer” were bulldozed aside as the coronation of the “King” saw Elvis rule the court of rock and roll for all time. He took the throne, the one that he reigns from even now, even today, pretty much from the get-go. His performances had women in screaming frenzies and critics swooning.
In the same year Elvis was called “a savage” by a Florida judge for “undermining the youth.” But what kind of rock star doesn’t stir up a little controversy? Riding Elvis mania, the King ventured into his film career. Elvis was quite the actor. He went on to star in over 30 films in his lifetime.
Elvis bought (and lived in) Graceland within the first year of his career
In 1957 Elvis purchased his famous home (and now the notorious landmark), called Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. Rumor has it that the previous owner named it after his daughter Grace. Elvis bought for $100,000. It became an iconic tribute to the singer and remains a popular tourist attraction for Elvis fans.
Elvis was living the good life, but 1958 brought about a lot of change. All kidding aside, Elvis was really fond of his mother, and he took it very hard when she died in August of that year of a heart attack. Elvis apparently received over 100,000 cards from sympathetic fans.
Elvis served two years in the military at the height of his fame
Elvis’ ride at the top was short-lived, or at least delayed for a while in 1957.
During the Cold War, the United States instituted a peacetime draft to keep their numbers up in the face of the Soviet threat. When Elvis’ number was called, despite being one of the most famous people in the world, he reported for duty.
Elvis was conscripted into the United States Army in 1958 where he served until 1960. By then, he had fancy cars, women across the country losing their minds over him, many toys, and over $400,000 cash in a bank account. He had to leave it all behind while he fulfilled his duty to the country.
Elvis would have been arrested for this today (strike 2!)
The King’s service to his country brought him all the way to Germany. While there he didn’t receive any special treatment (though it was offered to him, he turned it down) from the army, and he was given $78 a month in salary. The fact that he did his duty gained him respect from his haters.
Though Elvis would have many love interests in his life, he met the love of his life while on duty Germany. He was 24 years old at the time, but that didn’t stop him from falling in love with the 14-year-old daughter of a US Navy pilot (you know who). Bold move, Elvis.
Elvis always asked Priscilla to do this
Despite their long relationship, and indeed, marriage, Elvis asked that the love of his life to always look her best — to always look her best and to uphold his idealism of her as a perfect beauty. No sweats and ice cream pints for her.
Later in life, Priscilla also revealed that she wore makeup around him 100% of the time, and he didn’t want to see her get dressed or do her hair or any of the other things ladies do to look their best. According to Priscilla, Elvis liked the mystery. Knowing the competition for her man was fierce, Priscilla obliged.
Elvis helped eradicate polio
In 1955 a scientist named Jonas Salk finally invented a cure for one of the worlds worst diseases — polio. But after a year doctors were still having troubles 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!
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; 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.
Career power moves
Priscilla was concerned that her lover’s career would suffer from him being a regular soldier. She wanted him to go into the Special Service, which isn’t for the inept, but a place where he could do performances for the army. He would also have contact with the press, and enjoy safeties that weren’t afforded to other soldiers.
But Elvis had a manager that was top notch and clairvoyant, and correctly determined that if Elvis did his time in the service, it would make him immensely popular. Colonel Tom Parker would have the King’s back through thick and thin over the years, and Elvis trusted him throughout his whole career to point him in the right direction.
Colonel Parker came from a background in carnivals
Parker was Elvis’ most trusted confidant, and played a big role in taking Elvis to the top of the charts. But his background was a little fuzzy, and because he worked as a carnival promoter before the music industry, he seemed like an unlikely candidate to enjoy so much success.
Often times Parker would refer to Elvis as “my attraction,” as if he were part of the carnival. Once upon a time he also painted sparrows yellow and sold them as canaries. As much as Elvis liked him Parker was a shady man, as when Elvis died it was discovered Parker was taking in half of what Elvis made.
“Little Elvis” (yeah, THAT 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 the mail.
“Little Elvis,” as the King used to refer to his manhood, was rarely alone. And when Sergeant Presley (because in his brief two years, he was promoted) 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.
“Elvis’ singing wasn’t sexy, it was pornographic.”
The record label that Elvis was signed with was RCA, and they managed to put together four albums from old recorded material during the King’s tenure in the military.
When he got back, he was rushed into the studio, even recording a song during a stop on his train ride home.
The result was the 1960 classic “Elvis is Back!” The album was an instant success. It produced such memorable songs as Elvis’ rendition of “It’s Now or Never” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” The album inspired one music critic to say, “Elvis’ singing wasn’t sexy, it was pornographic.” And with song titles like that, it’s easy to understand why.
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 judgement, here, as that just sounds good.
He had one daughter, Lisa Marie
In 1961 Elvis hit his stride as an actor and played the title role in Blue Hawaii. He also produced a number one single with a the song “Can’t help falling in love with you.” He did the same thing with the song “Return to Sender” the following year in the movie “Girls! Girls! Girls!.” He was dominating the entertainment business. But something was missing.
After seven years of courtship, Elvis and Priscilla finally tied the knot, though rumor has it that it wasn’t their call. They had their only child together shortly after, a daughter they named Lisa Marie. But after they had a child, Elvis became distant from his wife, and the couple called it quits by 1972.
Elvis’ manager might have been 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 he was well received. He thought the union would make Elvis more popular to 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.
Elvis was a serious germaphobe
An interesting fact about Colonel Parker is that he used to paint Sparrows yellow and sell them as canaries to make ends meet before he met Elvis.
Hopefully, he didn’t sell those birds to any minors, but when it came to Elvis apparently, he was a straight shooter, and Elvis rewarded him handsomely for it.
Elvis probably never would’ve touched those birds, as reports from Priscilla tell us that he was a germaphobe. According to her, he used to sip his glasses from the part above the handle, knowing that no one before would’ve drunk from that part of the glass.
Elvis was a little trigger happy
Elvis may have gotten a guitar when he was 11 years old, but when he became an adult he finally got that rifle he wanted, and a whole lot more. Elvis loved guns and carried them around frequently. Tom Jones even remembers when Elvis carelessly left a pistol in his dressing room for anyone to take.
A girlfriend of Elvis’ named Ginger Alden even recounted a time when Elvis fired a gun at a TV set. She also recalled a time when he fired a bullet into a headboard as she slept. He apparently did it to “grab her attention.” Let’s just say Elvis’ reasons for firing got pretty casual.
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.”
Elvis’ big comeback
Elvis hadn’t cracked the top 10 in years before his comeback and his previous two singles were decidedly underwhelming. He also hadn’t been touring, and “Elvis” was his first live performance since 1961. The soundtrack album that was released after the show returned him to the top ten of the music charts.
Elvis is said to have been “uninhibited” in the ’68 Comeback Special, as he previously felt constrained about the songs he sang and requests from producers and audiences. He vowed to never sing a song he didn’t believe in again, and to do his career his way — for better or for worse.
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.
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.” And those autographs were worth something, 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 happiness 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!
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. But 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.
Elvis wasn’t initially welcome in Vegas
Music critics despised Elvis Presley when he first showed up to rock and roll Las Vegas in 1956. It wasn’t quite the swinging sixties yet, as the town was still owned by a member of the Rat Pack. The WWII generation wasn’t quite ready for the hip-shaking King, but he rolled in anyway.
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.” But the generations had changed by the early 70s, and the King made Vegas his home base. Elvis was Vegas, and Vegas was him.
White little chapels and shotgun weddings
“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” is the slogan adopted during the King’s reign in the desert. In 1964 Elvis starred in a movie called Viva Las Vegas (and recorded a song of the same title, of course). In the movie, he got a “quickie” marriage to his co-star Ann Margaret, and ever since wedding chapels have adorned the area around the Vegas strip.
Though we can’t say that’s the exact reason Las Vegas became the eloping (to put it nicely) capital of the country, the release of the movie timed up well with the explosion of shotgun weddings. Elvis and Priscilla Presley were even married in… you guessed it, Las Vegas, long before the quickie wedding became somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Elvis developed a bad pill problem
The Elvis Presley that performed “Aloha From Hawaii” in 1973 wasn’t the Elvis that opened in Vegas in 1956. He had prescriptions coming in from five doctors, became depressed and developed poor personal habits, and sometimes became so concerned about his weight, he would lay in bed for days without eating.
When the King’s music gave way to rock and roll the likes of The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, Elvis could still be found on the strip rocking for a crowd that paid $17.50 for his show and a lobster dinner. The King was, and had always been, a man of the people.
Elvis was big, then he got bigger
Elvis was always a well-sized man, being 6-feet-tall and having a size-11-shoe, but toward the end of his life he certainly gained a lot of weight. By 1977 journalist Tony Scherman, “Presley had become a grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self.”
Another journalist said, “is almost unrecognizable, a small, childlike instrument in which he talks more than sings most of the songs, casts about uncertainly for the melody in others, and is virtually unable to articulate or project.” His performances were turning into spectacles, as he also suffered from glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon.
Some people believe he faked his own death
Elvis left the building for good on the night of August 16, 1977, at the age of 42 in his bathroom at his home in 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 and his style was so unique he is perhaps impersonated more than anyone on the planet. 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!