Richard Nixon and Elvis
Born to a poor family, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley 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 a tool company and then an electric company. In the summer of 1953 he paid to record the first of two double-sided demo acetates at Sun Studios, singing "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", popular ballads of the time.
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 then 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, garnering 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 Singles chart. During this period Elvis toured incessantly throughout the south and southwest, also appearing 50 times on the regional show "Lousiana Hayride". 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.
A string of hit records followed as the public's desire for his product seemed insatiable. On January 28, 1956 he made his national television debut by appearing on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show. Now recording for RCA, and under the management of (honorary) Col. Tom Parker, Elvis entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time on February 22 with "Heartbreak Hotel". 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 US Army. Presley served in Germany where he drove a jeep for Sgt. Ira Jones and was honorably discharged on March 5, 1960. Many have sinced wondered why an only child, by then the sole support of his parents and grandmother, was drafted during peacetime, his services 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.
Beginning with Love Me Tender\ (opened on November 15, 1956), Presley starred in 31 motion pictures, 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. The 1960s saw the quality of his 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 in 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, many setting attendance records in the venues where he performed.
From the beginning of his career, Elvis was a sex symbol sending legions of women swooning. On May 1, 1967 he married Priscilla Anne Beaulieu at the Alladin Hotel in Las Vegas. A daughter, Lisa Marie, was born exactly nine months after their wedding, on February 1, 1968. After their divorce in 1973 she lived with Priscilla. However, Elvis: The Hollywood Years, a new biography by David Bret, claims the star had a secret gay affair. The author says that his manager 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' the star in the past were thwarted by his manager.
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 no. 1 while he was still alive. The mid-1970s saw Elvis becoming increasing isolated, battling an addiction to prescription drugs and the resulting toll on his appearance and performances. He died at his palatial home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977 and is now buried on its grounds. 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. Since his death there have been numerous conspiracy theories and Elvis sightings.
Elvis Presley spawned Rock and Roll interest in Europe, his name even known by people behind the then Iron Curtain. In France, Johnny Hallyday copied Presley in the French language becoming a huge star in that country. Presley paved the way for other American rockers whose records sold in Europe and who began to tour there. Teenagers around the world began copying his "Duck tail" hair style and the demand for transistor radios exploded so much so that Sony went from a small Japanese telecommunications company making radios, to a giant global conglomerate. Too, through his new look with black slacks and loose open-necked shirts he created a huge demand for new lines of clothing. Presley's influence created a generation of teenagers who, for the first time became an economic powerhouse through their spending capacity.
Now, more than twenty years after his death, Presley remains a foremost icon of the 20th century. His image, especially his trademark quiff (or forelock), is instantly recognizable. He is still the gold standard against which modern notions of fame are measured. At least one modern recording artist, Elvis Costello, borrowed Presley's first name to help his fledgling career.
But all too often, Elvis Presley's kitsch appeal, the industry which has grown up around chronicling his dietary and chemical predilections and the trappings of his celebrity, have tended to obscure the vibrant and vital music he made as a young man, the vocally-influential recordings of his later career, and the lasting influence both he and his music had on American popular culture. Nonetheless, in October 2002, nearly 50 years after he made his first hit record and 25 years after his death, an Elvis Presley album titled "ELV1S 30 #1 Hits," reached number 1 on the charts.
Amongst his many accomplishments, Elvis Presley is only one of two singers to ever simultaneously have two Top 5 albums on the charts. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
Some examples of his songs:
Note: The Presley family, including Elvis, spelled his middle name "Aron" throughout his life, although Elvis is said to have considered changing it to "Aaron". His birth certificate and tombstone both read "Aaron".