January 2005
By Steven M. Housman

A King’s Ransom

Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of Elvis Presley’s Birth

Last week, while I watching the news, they had reported that Elvis Presley was one of the biggest money makers of 2004. It’s a pretty amazing achievement for a live performer, but it’s an astonishing accomplishment when you’ve been dead for the past twenty-eight years. The fact that Elvis has been Number One on this list since his untimely death at the age of 42 in 1977 has amazed a younger generation of people, some of who weren’t even alive during the King’s reign. The great thing that comes from this (other than Lisa Marie’s inheritance) is that the younger generation is listening and studying Elvis’ music, and discovering the reason why he so deservedly is, and always will be, The King of Rock and Roll.

The reason for this article is not to talk about the King’s fortune, but to celebrate what would have been his 70th Birthday. 70? Can you wrap that around your head?

Elvis Aron Presley was born in January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi to Gladys and Vernon Presley. In 1948, at the age of thirteen, the family of three moved to Memphis, Tennessee. When Elvis was nineteen, he recorded for local Sun Records. RCA quickly picked up the local talent and signed him to a record deal in November 1955. In January 1956, at the age of twenty-one, Elvis made his television debut on Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show. Two months later, his first RCA single “Heartbreak Hotel” was released and shot to Number One, staying at the top slot for two months and selling over two million singles. By the time 1956 ended, Elvis Presley had charted seventeen hits, including four more Number One singles, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender,” totaling thirty-six weeks at the top for one calendar year. Absolutely astounding.

1957 proved to be just as lucrative, adding another nine hit singles, including four Number Ones, “Too Much,” “All Shook Up,” “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear” and “Jailhouse Rock,” totaling another twenty-six weeks at Number One.

If I were to name all of Elvis’ hit singles, 152 in all, including over two dozen Number Ones, I’d need half of this magazine…literally. Besides conquering the radio airwaves, and television, (yes, kids, the stories about shooting Elvis from the waist up are all true) Elvis also made 31 feature films beginning with Love Me Tender in 1956. At age 23, Elvis enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 24, 1958 and served until March 5, 1960. During the time he was stationed in Germany, Elvis met a fourteen year-old beauty named Priscilla Beaulieu, whose father was stationed there as well. Although Elvis was ten years older than Priscilla, he was intrigued by her innocent beauty and she by Elvis Presley, the star. What began as a star struck teen, became a young woman obsessed with the man himself. Priscilla once described it as an end to her loneliness in Germany.

During this time, Elvis was introduced to a man who would become the most influential figure in his life, Col. Tom Parker. He became his manager, his mouthpiece, and Elvis never made another move in his career without the advice and consent of Parker.

After Presley’s return to the United States, he began to miss Priscilla, and she was terribly unhappy with the separation. Elvis asked the permission of Priscilla’s parents to allow her to come live with him and his family at Graceland, the mansion he had purchased for himself and his Mother, Father and Grandmother. Elvis was a deeply devoted son and grandson and was devastated over his Mother’s death, ironically at the same age of his death, 42, me close to him have said, “ He never really recovered from her loss.” Priscilla, in some strange way, seemed to fill that void. Reluctantly, the Beaulieu’s agreed, and Priscilla began a life of going to high school in Memphis, sleeping with the King by night, but never having sexual relations, (Elvis wanted his future wife to be a virgin) but keeping Elvis’ schedule, which included staying up until the wee hours and going to school half-dazed. After Elvis saw how Priscilla was having trouble staying awake for her daily duties, he started her on the same diet of pills that he had become so accustomed to. By day, she would be flying high on uppers, while Elvis was sleeping off his sleeping pills. All of that came to an end when Priscilla had passed out for two days solid, and thankfully, she had enough sense to kick the pills before they became the habit and addiction that Elvis had now developed.

After several years of enduring Elvis’ mood swings, his fame, which began to wane during the Beatles heyday in 1964 when they dominated radio and record sales, his infidelity, (most notably, his affair with actress Ann-Margret, which began on the movie set of Viva Las Vegas and continued until shortly after the films release) and pressure from Colonel Parker, 32 year old Elvis Presley married 21 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu on May 1, 1967 in Las Vegas. On February 1, 1968, exactly nine months to the day, Lisa Marie was born.

In 1968, after sagging record sales and movie box office disappointments, Elvis filmed a television special that is now called the famous “Comeback Special.” And what a come-back it was. 33 year-old Presley seated on a bare stage, dressed in black leather from head to toe, holding nothing but a guitar, with fans swooning at his feet, put Elvis back on top. The special was a ratings bonanza, and Elvis had new life and another three-year string of Top 40 hits that included some of his greatest work, including “In The Ghetto,” the Number One smash “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Kentucky Rain” and “The Wonder of You.” Elvis’ career was back on top, record sales were up, he had signed the most lucrative contract in Las Vegas history at the time with The Las Vegas Hilton for recurring engagements, but his personal life was unfolding. Persistent prescription drug use was interfering with his marriage and Priscilla was growing weary of his non-existent existence. Priscilla eventually moved out and filed for divorce which became official on October 11, 1973.

Elvis continued to play to sold-out audiences in Vegas, release Top 40 records, although no longer a leader in sales with an occasional hit song, the magic seemed to have been fading. No longer the sex symbol, by the time Elvis was 38 years-old, he had become a bloated, overweight figure, with his health rapidly declining. Those close to him, including Priscilla, begged him to seek treatment, but Elvis was in so deep, he was drowning.

Early 1976, Barbra Streisand approached Presley to co-star with her on her latest film endeavor, A Star Is Born. According to a 1985 interview with Barbara Walters, Priscilla told Walters that “Elvis was excited over the project and felt this was just what he needed.” She also felt this was also a way for her former husband to clean up his act and get control of his life again. Colonel Parker wouldn’t hear of Elvis playing a burnt-out rock and roll superstar on the decline (probably too close to home) and scoffed at Presley taking second billing to Streisand, and turned her down. Priscilla felt it may have saved his life. Priscilla had also told Walters she believed that his years of drug use had finally taken its toll.

Elvis was found unconscious on his bathroom floor by his girlfriend, Ginger Alden. It was later disclosed he had been lying there for about three hours before Alden discovered him. Help was summoned, but all attempts to revive him were futile. His personal physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, pronounced him dead at 3:30 P.M. on August 16, 1977, at a Memphis hospital.

No evidence of any illegal drugs was found at his home. There were, however, many drugs prescribed by his doctor. Elvis had suffered "cardiac arrhythmia" (irregular heartbeat) brought on by "undetermined causes." He would be ruled dead "by natural causes." Tens of thousands of people gathered outside his Memphis mansion to pay their last respects to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Elvis’ last live performance was in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also the first rock artist to be honored by the U.S. Postal Service with an Elvis Presley commemorative stamp on January 8, 1993. In addition to his 152 Pop Charted Singles in Billboard, Presley charted 85 Country Hits, 52 Adult Contemporary Hits, and 35 R&B hits. He has also charted 106 albums on the Billboard 200. His most recent albums, 2002’s Elv1s 30 # 1 Hits and 2003’s Elvis 2ND To None, both topped the Billboard chart. It’s pretty amazing to have Number One albums 25 years after his death.

Last week, after the announcement that Elvis Presley was one of the top grossing artists of 2004, his daughter was in the headlines. Lisa Marie Presley is keeping Graceland but selling the bulk of the Elvis estate, including rights to her father's name and image, in a deal worth approximately $100 million.

Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. announced an agreement to sell 85 percent of its assets to businessman Robert F.X. Sillerman, founder of music and sports promoter SFX Entertainment.

The Presley estate brought in almost $45 million last year. Sillerman said more aggressive marketing, supported by capital raised through a new publicly traded company, can make Elvis an even bigger earner.

Presley occupies a unique place in American pop culture, and "I don't think there's much likelihood his influence is going to wane anytime in my lifetime," Sillerman said.

As Presley's only child, Lisa Marie is the sole heir to the estate, most of which is now to become part of a publicly traded company that will be called CKX Inc. The agreement will pay her $53 million in cash and absolve her of $25 million in debts owed by the estate. She also is to get shares in the new company expected to be worth more than $20 million.

Lisa Marie will retain possession of her father's home, its more than 13 acres of land and many of her father's "personal effects," an announcement on the agreement said.
"For the past few years, I've been looking for someone to join forces with to expand the many facets of (Elvis Presley Enterprises), to take it to new levels internationally and to make it an even greater force in the entertainment industry," Ms. Presley, also a singer, said in a statement.

Tours of Graceland, which gets 650,000 visitors a year, will continue unchanged. “The throngs of fans drawn to Memphis each August on the anniversary of Presley's 1977 death will notice little different,” Sillerman said.

Although Elvis already ranks No. 1 on the Forbes magazine list of top-earning dead celebrities, Sillerman said new markets and business opportunities may be available, including abroad.

"Does it make sense to invest in Elvis Presley enterprises in Japan? Does it make sense in Germany? Are there things that can be done in other jurisdictions in the United States?" he said. "The answer to some of the questions is obviously yes, we just don't know which ones."

Sillerman said the staff at Graceland will remain in place.

Elvis Presley Enterprises was created in 1980 by Priscilla Presley. She is to remain as a consultant to the new owners.

Elvis Presley remains the Number One artist of all time, a position he has not yet relinquished, and doesn’t seem likely in our lifetime.

Happy 70th Birthday, Elvis. Long live the King.

© 2005 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.