81 years ago today (8 January), The King was born – eventually sending the more conservative among society into an outraged fluster and setting the rest of the world on fire. To celebrate the man who changed the course of rock’n’roll, here’s 75 geeky Elvis facts.
The inspiration for Elvis Presley’s trademark jumpsuit-and-quiff look? A comic book hero called Captain Marvel Jr, whose adventures he enjoyed as a kid. Check out the resemblance.
Pic: PA Photos
Just before he died, Elvis commissioned his stage electrician to design a version of his white jumpsuit that would shoot laser beams into the audience.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, owing to strict Islamic laws, Elvis impersonators are required to have beards.
A man of macabre tastes, Elvis enjoyed regular visits to Memphis morgue to look at the corpses.
Pic: PA Photos
Presley was first introduced to amphetamines while serving in the army. He instantly became “practically evangelical about their benefits”.
Pic: PA Photos
Elvis’ daughter Lisa-Marie appeared onstage with Richard Hawley at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2009. Her mum Priscilla – Elvis’ wife – was spotted at the bar. Pic: PA Photos
Elvis was a black belt in karate, having first taken up martial arts while fulfilling his military duties in Germany in 1958.
A persistent rumour suggests Elvis’ famous sexual magnetism was achieved, in part, through the use of props. A boyhood friend claims he used a cardboard tube to “look to the girls up front like he had one helluva thing there inside his pants”.
Pic: PA Photos
Before signing Elvis, manager Colonel Tom Parker achieved minor success with a touring act, Colonel Parker’s Dancing Chickens. How did he get the chickens to dance? He made them stand on a red-hot plate.
In December 1970, Presley met President Nixon at the White House. Presley had initiated the meeting with a six-page letter to the President, in which he had spelt out his desire to be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Pic: PA Photos
During his meeting with Nixon, Presley denounced The Beatles as being ‘un-American’ for their open drug-taking and anti-Vietnam politics. The President is said to have given Presley a ‘Special Agent’ badge.
Pic: PA Photos
Elvis owned at least 40 firearms, including M-16s and a Thomson sub-machinegun.
One girlfriend, Peggy Lipton, claims that Elvis was “virtually impotent”, attributing this to his rampant drug use.
Despite being famous for his dark looks, Elvis had blond hair until his late teens.
As a teenager, Elvis’ favourite hang-out was Beale Street, Memphis, legendary birthplace of the blues. Decades later, in 1997, the body of drowned singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley washed up at the foot of Beale Street.
Early in his career Elvis adopted a chimpanzee called Scatter, who he trained to look up women’s skirts.
It’s thought that Presley was six months away from bankruptcy when he died.
Elvis was a descendant of Cherokee Native Americans, on his mother Gladys’ side.
When Presley signed to RCA in November 1955, he was still a minor (at 20), so his dad Vernon (pictured left) had to sign the contract for him.
Elvis sold 6,000 copies of his debut single ‘That’s All Right’/’Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ before it was even released. When the lead track was played on Memphis radio station WHBQ in July 1954, Sun Records were deluged with pre-orders.
Billionaire Robert Sillerman, owner of the TV show American Idol, bought an 85% stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005. This gives him control of Elvis Presley’s name and likeness in the US.
Drugs found in Elvis’ system when he died include the painkillers Morphine and Demerol; the antihistamine Chloropheniramine; the tranquilizers Placidyl and Valium. Plus Codeine, Ethinamate, Quaaludes, and an unidentified barbituate.
One of Elvis’ favourite snacks was burnt bacon.
Elvis had a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe in 1956, according to “associate” Byron Raphael. Raphael claims The King later told him, “She’s a nice gal, but a little tall for me.”
Presley’s entourage – ‘the Memphis mafia’ – all sported identical diamond and gold rings with TCB stamped on them, an acronym for “Taking care of business.” By way of tribute, Liam Gallagher has the same initials tattooed on his right arm.
Despite his Herculean drug intake, Elvis rarely drank, since several of his family members had been alcoholics.
His 1973 live concert broadcast, Aloha From Hawaii, is the most watched broadcast by an individual entertainer in television history. It has been watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people.
In 1960, Elvis weighed just over 12 stone. When he died, in 1977, he weighed 19 stone.
The notion that Elvis was a racist – popularised by Public Enemy, in their song ‘Fight The Power’ – goes back to a remark he supposedly made in 1957 that “The only thing negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” However, there is no evidence he actually said anything of the sort.
Elvis’ first public performance? He sang a country standard called ‘Old Shep’ at the Mississippi-Alabama competition Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy.
Elvis Presley recorded over 600 songs – but didn’t write any of them.
Despite being associated with Memphis, Elvis wasn’t born there. The first 13 years of his life were spent in Tupelo, Mississippi. His birthplace is pictured here.
Frank Sinatra described Elvis Presley’s brand of rock’n’roll as “the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear… It is sung, played and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons.”
In 1938, three years after Elvis was born, his dad Vernon was imprisoned for eight years for falsifying a check.
As a teenager, Elvis styled his hair using Vaseline.
Before finding fame, Elvis was a truck driver, earning $1.25 an hour. He disliked it, though, and started taking evening classes with a view to becoming an electrician.
In April 1956, a couple of weeks before scoring his first Number One with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, Elvis was lucky to survive when a plane carrying him to Nashville lost an engine and almost crashed over Texas.
Elvis once ate nothing but meatloaf, tomatoes, and mashed potato for two years.
Some of Elvis’s bejewelled jumpsuits weighed more than two stone.
Legend has it that Elvis’ famous ‘shaky legs’ dance was a result of stagefright. Before his earliest gigs, he’d get so nervous his legs would shake of their own accord.
Was Elvis a prude in the bedroom? Natalie Wood, who dated him briefly in 1956, claimed that his mother’s influence had “wrecked everything”. “God it was awful,” she told her sister. “He can sing but he can’t do much else.”
Elvis never toured Europe, and only set foot on British soil once, when the plane taking him back to the United States from Germany stopped to refuel at Glasgow Prestwick airport.
While an eighth grade student at Humes High School, Memphis, Elvis scored a C-grade in music. His teacher told him he couldn’t sing.
The day before he died, Elvis had tried to obtain a print of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, to show his daughter, Lisa Marie.
Blues legend BB King says he used to play with a pre-fame Elvis in the blues clubs of Beale Street in the early 1950s – quite a claim, considering the black/white segregation laws in place at the time.
In 1973, Elvis gifted a $10,000 white robe to the boxer Mohammed Ali. However, Ali came to view it as a bad-luck charm. The first time he wore it in the ring, he got his jaw broken in the second round.
Elvis always enjoyed his food, even before he became obese. In his 20s, he told Country Song Roundup Magazine that he could eat eight cheeseburgers and three milkshakes in one sitting.
In 1954, the same year he released his debut single, Elvis auditioned, unsuccessfully, for an amateur gospel group called The Songfellows.
When Elvis first walked in to the Sun Records offices in August 1953 to record two songs, receptionist Marion Keisker made a note for label boss Sam Phillips: “Good ballad singer. Hold.”
Presley’s wife Priscilla had an affair with a mutual friend (and karate instructor) Mike Stone. When he found out, Presley inquired about having Stone killed – but changed his mind later the same night.
The moral panic aroused by Elvis spread like wildfire. During his first major tour, an outraged Christian wrote to the FBI, warning that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States. … [His] actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth.”
When Elvis met President Nixon on December 21, 1970, he brought a number of gifts – including a Colt 45 pistol.
At their wedding on May 1, 1967, Elvis and Priscilla danced to ‘Love Me Tender’, the first Elvis song Priscilla ever heard.
Food served at the wedding included oysters, clams, salmon, lobster, fried chicken, roasted pig, and a six-tiered cake that cost $3,500.
At Elvis’ funeral, outside the gates of Graceland, a car ploughed into a group of fans, killing two women and critically injuring a third.
Elvis’ life in music began when he was given an acoustic guitar for his eleventh birthday. He was initially non-plussed – he’d wanted a bicycle.
Elvis was a distant cousin of President Jimmy Carter, and was a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln’s great-great grandfather, Isaiah Harrison.
In 1973, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and John Paul Jones met Elvis in Las Vegas. As a gesture of goodwill, Presley swapped his $5000 gold watch with Jones’ cheap Mickey Mouse one.
Elvis collected marble statues of the Venus de Milo and Joan of Arc.
Elvis once serenaded Tom Jones backstage in Las Vegas – while the Welsh crooner was taking a shower. “I didn’t have any clothes on,” Jones told The Sun in 2009. “I think he was checking me out.”
The young Presley forked out $4 to make his first recording.
According to Elvis’ daughter Lisa-Marie – who was briefly married to Michael Jackson between 1994 and 1996 – the singer feared he was doomed to die young just like Presley. Apparently he once told her: “I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, [dying] the way he did.”
When it came to religion, Elvis hedged his bets. He wore both a cross and a star of David around his neck, quipping: “I don’t want to miss out on heaven due to a technicality.”
TV host Ed Sullivan, who later gave The Beatles their big break in the states, declared Elvis “unfit for family viewing” on account of his public thrusts, and initially refused to have him on the show. Elvis’ British counterpart, Cliff Richard (pictured), had no such problems.
When Sullivan relented, and did invite Presley onto his show, in September 1956, it drew an audience of 72 million – one-third of the population of America.
Even so, Sullivan was appalled by Presley’s full-on sexuality (“You can see the outline of his cock!” he complained to his producer) and, when it came to the singer’s third and final appearance, insisted he be shot from the waist up. Pictured here is Hank Snow, one of Elvis’ favourite artists.
There is one animal – the Preseucoila Imallshookupis – named after Elvis. This is the scientific name for the gall wasp.
After Presley’s funeral on August 18, 1977, there was a public viewing of the casket in the foyer of Graceland. Over 30,000 fans were let in.
The cover of The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ album was designed by graphic designer Ray Lowry as a tribute to Elvis Presley’s debut album.
Towards the end of Elvis’ life, the kitchen at Gracelands was kept open 24 hours a day. Their busiest time was 4.30am, when Elvis would frequently get a craving for burgers and peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Colonel Tom Parker’s real name was the rather less all-American-sounding Andreas van Kuijk.
Despite claims that Lisa-Marie Presley’s marriage to Michael Jackson was a sham, she insisted that it was “a married couple’s life … that was sexually active”.
In his grim final days, if he was lucid at all, Elvis would sit in his hotel room in Las Vegas and recite his favourite Monty Python sketches.
Elvis’ tombstone reads Elvis Aaron Presley, but his middle name was actually spelt ‘Aron’. His parents chose this unusual spelling in honour of his stillborn twin, who was to be called Jesse Garon Presley.
The Beatles met Elvis in Hollywood on August 27, 1965, while on tour. There was initially an awkward silence, but they ended up jamming with him and watching TV.
In 1973, the year of his divorce from Priscilla, Elvis twice overdosed on barbiturates, spending three days in a coma in his hotel suite after the first incident.