BRB, booking a trip to Graceland immediately!
Elvis, the biopic covering the iconic singer’s life, is poised to be one of the summer’s biggest movies.
In case you’re someone who likes to read up on all of the facts before seeing the movie, I rounded up some fascinating stories and facts about the King of Rock and Roll’s life, from details about his years in the military to clearing up some rumors about his tragic death.
Here are 21 facts about Elvis’s legendary life and career:
Although Elvis is known for his trademark dark pompadour, he actually was a natural blonde! Presley was a big fan of Tony Curtis, an actor who dyed his hair black, so he decided to use shoe polish to achieve a similar look. Later in his career, Elvis switched to real hair dye and also began dyeing his eyebrows and eyelashes. When he would sweat on stage while performing, the dye would sometimes run into his eyes, causing pink eye.
Dr. George Nichopoulos, who treated the singer in the late 1960s until his death in 1977, was implicated for providing Elvis with drugs that may have contributed to his tragic death. In 1980, “Dr. Nick” had his medical license suspended for prescribing mass quantities of uncontrolled substances. Turns out, in the last year and a half of Elvis’s life, he was prescribed over 12,000 pills by Dr. Nick and would travel with three suitcases full of medication at all times. Dr. Nick insisted the pills were actually for Elvis’s entire entourage and that he was clear of any wrongdoing.
Dr. Nick later testified that he was willing to prescribe Presley whatever he wanted because he didn’t want him to seek out drugs from other doctors or resort to buying drugs off the street.
While we all know Elvis as the King of Rock and Roll, he also starred in 31 movies, and supposedly almost nabbed the lead in A Star Is Born alongside Barbra Streisand. After Streisand was cast, filmmakers discussed Presley starring opposite her. While Elvis was on the way to meet Streisand, she said she was so nervous that she started painting her nails. Once Presley arrived, he took the nail polish and finished the job for her. Despite their chemistry, Elvis decided not to do the film. Some thought he felt the subject matter was too personal, while others believed he didn’t want to star in a film where he was the second lead.
In December 1957, Elvis announced that he had been drafted into the US Army. His devastated fans wrote tens of thousands of letters to both the singer and the military, begging that Elvis be spared from military service. Despite the outcry, Elvis said he was willing to put his career on hold, telling the media it was “a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it.”
Elvis was adamant that he not receive any special treatment because of his fame. The military agreed to give Elvis an eight-week deferment so he could finish filming the movie King Creole, because he was worried about how much money the filmmakers would stand to lose if he dropped out of the project. After filming wrapped, Presley reported to basic training in 1958. He served for about two years and spent 18 months in Germany, where he was promoted to sergeant.
Because Elvis left for service during the height of his fame, his record company was desperate for more Elvis content and worked to string together four albums of unreleased songs and soundbites to satiate the public’s Elvis obsession. One of the albums was even a recording of the press conference where he announced he was going into the military. Once he returned to the United States, he was immediately forced back in the recording studio — he even had to record a new song on a train on his return trip home. His military service eventually inspired Bye Bye Birdie, the musical in which a beloved star is drafted into the Army. Presley was even approached to star in the movie, but he declined because he said it felt like a parody of his own life.
At the height of Elvis’s fame, over 60,000 children a year were diagnosed with polio. When the polio vaccine was developed in 1965, many were skeptical to get it, with vaccination rates among teenagers at only 0.6%. In order to persuade people to get vaccinated, Elvis agreed to get his vaccine on live television during The Ed Sullivan Show. After getting his shot, teenage vaccination rates went up to 80% in just six months.
Elvis was obsessed with karate and even earned a black belt in 1960. He first fell for karate while stationed in Germany. Upon returning to the United States, he vowed to keep up with his training and soon earned his first-degree black belt. As Elvis continued his training, he met Master Kang Rhee, who bestowed the singer with a seventh-degree black belt. Presley then went on to open his own karate studio in Memphis, called the Tennessee Karate Institute. While some have questioned if Elvis was that good at karate, those who he trained with said that he was actually very talented and was incredibly passionate about karate until his death.
Throughout his entire career, Elvis only performed in North America and only performed outside of the United States three times, all for shows in Canada. This was apparently at the behest of Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
Parker, who was Dutch, was living in the United States illegally. He worried that if he left the United States for a show overseas, he wouldn’t be allowed back in. Parker might have also had a more sinister reason for refusing to leave: some believe that Parker committed a gruesome murder in his hometown. When Parker, whose real name was suspected to be Andreas van Kuijk, left home for America in 1929, there was an unexplained murder. A young woman working in a shop in his hometown of Breda in the Netherlands had been beaten to death, and the store ransacked. While there isn’t exact evidence that pinpoints Parker as the killer, some in his inner circle believe it was the real reason why he was so hesitant to leave the United States.
Despite the fact that Elvis was one of the most beloved stars of his time, he still had his fair share of haters. Parker decided he was going to manufacture “I Hate Elvis” buttons to sell in order to make money off the people who refused to buy pro-Elvis merchandise.
Graceland, Elvis’s Memphis estate, was actually one of the first big ticket items Presley bought after becoming famous. He purchased the home for $100,000 in 1957, just one year after hitting it big. He was 22 years old. Presley lived at Graceland until his death and asked his parents to move in with him. Presley even recorded his final songs in the infamous Jungle Room, a den decked out in jungle-themed decor, where he supposedly spent most of his time because it reminded him of Hawaii.
After his death, Priscilla Presley became the executor of the estate until Elvis’s only daughter, Lisa Marie, was old enough to inherit it. The taxes on the property were incredibly expensive, and Priscilla considered selling it. Instead, she decided to turn it into a public attraction to honor her ex-husband’s life. Graceland opened to the public in 1982, and Priscilla was able to recoup all of the money she invested into restoring the home just one month after opening.
Now, Graceland ranks as the second-most visited home in the United States, just behind the White House, and generates an estimated $150 million a year for the city of Memphis. Presley’s gravesite was moved to Graceland after an attempt to steal his body and hold it for ransom just two days after he had been buried at a cemetery in Memphis next to his mother.
Elvis’s first television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show made history for several reasons. Besides being one of the first times the King’s signature dance moves were on display, it also marked the largest share of people tuned into the same show in American history. 82.6% of Americans with televisions were watching Presley make his hip-swinging debut, a television share that has never been beaten. The next time Presley appeared on the show, camera operators were instructed to keep the camera above his hips to prevent viewers from seeing his “vulgar” dance moves.
While stationed in Germany, Elvis met Priscilla Beaulieu, who was 14 years old, and fell for her. The pair dated for seven years, with Priscilla moving to Memphis to finish high school. After meeting Priscilla, he reportedly told a friend that she was “young enough that I can train her any way I want.” Elvis refused to look at her unless she was wearing makeup, and would not have sex with her for years after she gave birth, telling her “he had never been able to make love to a woman who’d had a child.” The pair married after being together for seven years, but eventually divorced after Priscilla decided she was tired of being Elvis’s “living doll.”
Priscilla was just one of the many young women Elvis had a thing for. While dating Priscilla, Elvis said he valued her purity and refused to sleep with her until they were married. Instead, he slept with other women while Priscilla waited at home. While on tour, he would often handpick teenage girls he wanted to sleep with. After he and Priscilla divorced in 1972, Elvis dated a string of teenage girls before meeting Ginger Alden, a 21-year-old former beauty queen. In her memoir, Alden recalls Presley shooting the headboard of her bed with a pistol while she was sleeping because she had refused to bring him more yogurt earlier that day.
Later in his career, Elvis usually wore rhinestone-studded jumpsuits while performing. The jumpsuits initially weighed in at around 25 to 30 pounds, but as the beading became more intricate, they could weigh up to 75 pounds. His American Eagle jumpsuit, also known as the “Aloha” after wearing it for a concert special filmed in Hawaii, was his most expensive, costing $65,000 to make at the time. Today, it would likely cost four times as much.
Despite the fact that Elvis recorded over 600 songs during his career, he actually didn’t write a single one of them. In some instances, Elvis’s management told songwriters that he wouldn’t record their songs unless he received a cowriting credit. He also never learned how to read music.
Never say Elvis wasn’t a foodie! He once charted a flight from Graceland to Denver to get a peanut butter, jelly, and bacon sandwich. The sandwich, dubbed “The Fool’s Gold Loaf,” was basically an entire loaf of bread that had been hollowed out and filled with peanut butter, jelly, and nearly a pound of bacon.
In 1970, Elvis decided he wanted a federal narcotics agent badge, because he believed it meant that he would be able to travel the world with whatever guns and drugs he wanted, no questions asked. Upon spontaneously arriving in Washington, DC, Presley called the White House and told president Richard Nixon, “I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent.” The meeting began with Presley telling Nixon that the Beatles were responsible for an increase in anti-American sentiments.
Presley went on to add that he had been closely studying Communism and the rise in psychedelic drug culture in the United States to help him make his case for the badge. Despite not having any training or legitimate need to have the badge, Nixon granted the request but ended up giving Elvis a badge that had no actual power. To close out the trip, Elvis gifted Nixon a handgun from World War II that Presley had taken off the wall in his Los Angeles mansion before boarding his flight to the White House.
While many of the movies Elvis starred in featured his songs, the King actually had nothing to do with the film that includes the most of his songs. That honor goes to Lilo and Stitch, which boasts eight Elvis songs on the soundtrack.
In 1964, Elvis bought president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht. He paid $55,000 for the boat, which was often called the “floating White House.” Soon after purchasing the boat, Elvis gave it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which is headquartered in Memphis, so they could sell it to raise funds for the hospital. In 1980, it was discovered that the boat was being used for drug smuggling and was recaptured off the coast of San Francisco, where it was repaired and opened to the public.
In 2012, a librarian in Memphis found a library book with a card signed by a 13-year-old Elvis in the back. It is the oldest known Elvis autograph.
I’ve been seeing people say Elvis died of constipation all over my For You page (I have somehow ended up on Elvis TikTok), so let’s clear it up once and for all. As a result of his addiction to opiates, Elvis suffered from severe constipation. Most doctors agree that, even though Presley died while on the toilet, he likely did not die from pooping, but from a massive heart attack that might have been triggered by the attempted bowel movement but was also due in part to his other health issues. He was 42 years old when he died in August 1977.
For years, people have maintained that Elvis is actually still alive, and faked his own death for a variety of reasons. In 1989, a group of fans formed The Elvis Sighting Society to investigate possible sightings of the singer. Some even believe that he appeared as an extra in Home Alone.
So why would Elvis fake his own death? In 1988, Gail Brewer-Giorgio pored over thousands of FBI documents and concluded that Elvis faked his own death and went into the witness protection program to escape the mafia. She said that in 1976, Elvis was enlisted as an undercover FBI agent to break up “The Fraternity” and had to disappear because he was about to be found out. Brewer-Giorgio even wrote a bestselling book about her theory. The FBI released the paperwork they had about the singer, and there is no mention of him assisting with any FBI intelligence.
Others use Elvis’s tombstone as a sign that he’s still alive. On the marker, his name is spelled Elvis Aaron Presley. However, when the singer was born, his middle name was originally spelled Aron. While some claim that Presley had preferred spelling it the way it appears on his grave, others say that it’s intentionally spelled wrong because it would be disrespectful to put his actual name on a tombstone while he was still alive.
Elvis hits theaters on June 24.