50 Elvis Presley facts to commemorate 40-year anniversairy of his death
PUBLISHED: 09:30 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 09:30 16 August 2017
It’s been 40 years since Elvis Presley passed away. We’ve pulled together 50 facts to celebrate The King and recall your favourite memories.
1. Elvis Presley’s family tree can be traced back to Morning Dove White, a Cherokee on his mother’s side.
2. Elvis’ twin brother, Jessie Garon, was born at 4am on 8 January 1935 but was dead by the time Elvis was born. There is no evidence that Elvis used to talk to his dead twin.
3. Elvis Aaron Presley was born at 435am on 8 January 1935 at the family home, no more than a shack, in Tupelo, Mississippi.
4. In 1937, Elvis’ father, Vernon Elvis Presley, sold a hog to his landlord for $4. He was arrested for changing the cheque to $14 and was sent to the notorious penitentiary, Parchman Farm.
5. As a child, Elvis attended the First Assembly of God church. He never doubted his faith and he loved gospel singing.
6. You can still visit the Tupelo Hardware Store where Elvis bought his first guitar, admittedly a cheap and nasty one, for $8 for his tenth birthday.
7. In 1945, Elvis sang ‘Old Shep’ at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, but he didn’t win. His teacher told him, “Sing the words slowly so that people can pick up on the story”.
8. The Presley family moved to Memphis in 1950. Vernon told Elvis to train as an electrician as he didn’t know a guitar player who was “worth a damn”.
9. On 18 July 1953, Elvis went into Sun Records on Union Avenue in Memphis to make a private recording of ‘My Happiness’. The secretary Marion Keisker asked him who he sounded like. He replied, “I don’t sound like nobody”.
10. Elvis made his first Sun Record, ‘That’s All Right, Mama’, with Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on double-bass. Sam Phillips, the producer and owner of Sun Records, added plenty of echo.
11. When Elvis appeared on the famous country show, Grand Ole Opry, the producer Jim Denny, told him he should go back to driving a truck.
12. Elvis appeared every week on the Louisiana Hayride radio show and he sang the ad for Southern Maid Donuts. At the Hayride, he found his drummer, DJ Fontana.
13. Elvis thought that his manager was an army colonel, Tom Parker, from West Virginia, but he was Andreas van Kuijk from the Netherlands. He was an illegal immigrant without a passport, which is why he never agreed to Elvis playing outside America.
14. Sam Phillips sold Elvis’ record contract to RCA for $35,000 with another $5,000 for Elvis. Elvis bought his mother, Gladys, a pink Cadillac even though she couldn’t drive.
15. A man who was shot dead for trying to rob a convenience store left a note which read, “I walk a lonely street”. It was reproduced in the Miami Herald and inspired the song, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.
16. Elvis is listed as a songwriter on several of his early hits including ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘All Shook Up’, although he didn’t write any of them.
17. Because of his wild gyrations, Presley became known as Elvis the Pelvis. One critic wrote, “He can’t sing a lick and he makes up for vocal shortcomings with the weirdest suggestive animation”.
18. Ed Sullivan was recovering from a car accident and so an actor from Scarborough, Charles Laughton, introduced Elvis to 54 million viewers on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1956.
19. Fans cried in the cinema when Clint Reno Elvis was killed in a gunfight during the western, Love Me Tender.
20. Elvis only wore his gold lamé suit for a few appearances as he found it uncomfortable.
21. Elvis dyed his hair jet-black as he liked the way the Hollywood actor Tony Curtis looked.
22. On 4 December 1956, Elvis Presley paid a visit to Sun Studios and had a photograph taken with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. They are now known as the Million Dollar Quartet, but Johnny Cash wasn’t at the jam session – he’d gone Christmas shopping.
23. In April 1957 Elvis Presley bought Graceland at a knockdown $102,000, although it needed attention.
24. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ was the first record to enter the UK chart at Number 1.
25. On 24 March 1958 Elvis was drafted, becoming Private Elvis Presley and earning $78 a month. Colonel Parker said Elvis could keep it all for himself, he didn’t want any commission.
26. In August 1958 Elvis’ mother, Gladys, died from chronic hepatitis. Elvis threw himself on her coffin, declaring “Everything I have is gone”.
27. While serving in Germany in August 1959, Elvis met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu. At a press conference before he left Germany, he referred to her as his girlfriend. He gave himself an extra stripe, thereby promoting himself to staff sergeant, no doubt a trick learnt from Colonel Parker.
28. On returning to America, Elvis’ plane stopped for refuelling at Prestwick Airport, outside Glasgow, the only time Elvis walked on British land.
29. Elvis sang a new lyric to ‘O Sole Mio’, first recorded by Enrico Caruso in 1901. With Elvis, it became ‘It’s Now Or Never’.
30. Colonel Parker’s wife, Marie, asked Elvis to record one of her favourite songs, ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’.
31. Elvis sizzled both off-screen and on with the Swedish beauty Ann-Margret, his co-star in Viva Las Vegas, but it cooled after she told a reporter that Elvis had bought her a double-bed.
32. In 1965 Elvis had a UK No 1 with ‘Crying In The Chapel’, and his only Grammys were for religious recordings.
33. The Beatles met Elvis Presley in his Bel-Air home in May 1965. They had a jam session which was not recorded and Elvis started it off by singing Cilla Black’s ‘You’re My World’.
34. Elvis Presley was surrounded by some good ol’ boys, who came to be known as the Memphis mafia. Feeling generous, Elvis bought all his staff, as well as himself and Priscilla, a horse for Christmas in 1966, a total of 19 horses.
35. Elvis Presley married Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin Hotel on 1 May 1967. It was front page news that the world’s most eligible bachelor had married.
36. Elvis and Priscilla’s daughter, Lisa Marie, was born in Memphis on 1 February 1968.
37. When Elvis agreed to a TV special in 1968, Colonel Parker wanted Christmas songs. For once, Elvis stood up for himself – no Christmas songs and that remarkable black leather sequence where he jokes about the old days.
38. Bill Belew made Elvis Presley’s jump suits. At the time of Elvis’ death, he was designing one which incorporated laser lights. Wasn’t just being Elvis Presley enough?
39. Elvis Presley played over 800 shows in Las Vegas. Elvis was a seventh-degree black belt and he used karate movements in his act. His pianist Glen D Hardin says, “The one thing we knew about Elvis’ set list is that he wouldn’t keep to it”.
40. In December 1970, Elvis Presley turned up unexpectedly at the White House and demanding to see President Nixon. He got an audience too and presented Nixon with an antique pistol.
41. Elvis’ 1970 No 1 ‘The Wonder Of You’ had been turned down by Perry Como over ten years earlier.
42. A live concert from Honolulu, Aloha From Hawaii, was broadcast worldwide in January 1973. The audience was over one billion people, but none of them were in the UK as both the BBC and ITV thought it was too expensive to screen.
43. Elvis hated books being written about him. He said, “These people who write about me don’t know nothing”. He felt betrayed by the book written by three of his former bodyguards, Elvis – What Happened?, in 1977.
44. In 1976 Elvis flew over 1,000 miles in his private jet to Denver, Colorado to have some Fool’s Gold Loaf, the speciality of a diner, with peanut butter, jelly and burnt bacon, served in a French stick.
45. Elvis Presley was pronounced dead at 3.30pm on 16 August 1977. He had a chair in his bathroom that he used when his hair was dyed. He fell out of it and onto the floor. The cause of death was an irregular heartbeat but there were other contributory factors.
46. Priscilla Presley could have sold Graceland after his death but decided to open it to the public, a stupendously successful venture. She should have managed Elvis while he was alive.
47. Lisa Marie has been married four times and has four children. Her husbands include Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage.
48. In 2002 Elvis returned to No 1 when a little-known film song, ‘A Little Less Conversation’, was given a new hip arrangement by JXL, and was used in Nike TV commercials.
49. In 2005 Elvis Presley had the UK’s 1000th No 1 with a reissue of ‘One Night’. It was his 20th chart-topper. He has had 21 No 1s to date.
50. In both 2015 and 2016, Elvis Presley had No 1 albums with old tracks given new arrangements by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This November Elvis will be singing them on stage via taped performances with introductions from Priscilla.
50. The final words of an Elvis concert: “Thank you and goodnight. Elvis has left the building”.
Elvis dying was one of my first memories, writes John Nice from One Sixth form Centre.
“I was too young to see Elvis in his pomp unfortunately (I was born in 1973), but I’ve always admired him. He seems to transcend this life.
“He used to wear a ring that was inscribed with the letters TCB – taking care of business.
“He certainly ‘took care of business’ – if only he took care of himself a bit more.
“There is an album called That’s the Way it is (Live) and I listen to songs from this almost every month.
“I particularly like a song called Walk a Mile in My Shoes and version of Little Sister / Get Back.
“Both songs epitomise the word cool in my opinion. Even now they sound so fresh and alive. Elvis dying is one of my first memories.
“I remember sitting in the lounge of my old house in Bury St Edmunds.
“I remember watching the television and news of his passing was on. My mum was really upset and she was crying.
“She was a huge fan of Elvis. She recently celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary.
“Naturally, Elvis was played a few times. Sometimes life conspires with you to make brilliant moments happen. Film occasionally does it as well.
“There is a bit in the film Dunkirk where an interpretation of Edward Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ kicks in, the boats start arriving from across the channel and tears “begin to well in the eyes of Kenneth Branagh’s character, as he realises he might get out of the situation alive.
“Everything came together in one epic and dramatic cinematic moment.
“Musically, Elvis on his day brought all of the elements together to create something magnificent that is hard to define. He is beyond iconic.”
Quaffed black hair, white leather suit, tassles that swung like crazy, writes Louise Wicks from Easton and Otley College.
“I remember his quaffed black hair and white leather suit with tassles that swung like crazy when he performed on the stage.
“I also remember the films he was in like Viva Las Vegas and GI Blues – I loved watching them.
“When he died I was camping with my friend and they kept playing Elvis on the radio we both thought it was his birthday until they eventually mentioned “that he had passed away.
“Elvis was a great entertainer and I was captivated by his performances. His energy on stage was inspiring and energising.
“But he also had a deeply calming voice on his slower tracks which had the ability to take all your cares away.”
I didn’t meet Elvis but I met Priscilla, writes Sally Nice from Saxon Monumental Craft.
“My favourite memories of Elvis are from when I was at school. We had two groups of people – Elvis fans and Cliff Richard fans.
“The Elvis fans outnumbered the Cliff fans. Some of my friends were completely obsessed.
“Writing to him and carrying on like that. When he came to Great Britain, my friend was convinced that she would meet him.
“I just enjoyed his music and I liked going to watch his films with my father.
“Personally I liked the ballads and I’ve never fallen out of love with him. He had the whole package.
“I felt really sad that he had died with so much talent in such a sad way. I think he was used by people – like most of the big stars.
“It’s not easy is it? I still love listening to his music and I was really pleased to meet Priscilla.
“I was walking towards Central Park with my daughter in New York and we saw a big queue. Being British, we were naturally intrigued by the queue so we “asked what people were doing.
“We were told that Priscilla Presley was doing a book signing so we joined the queue. She was charming.
“She asked us where we were from and she had time for you. I wasn’t jealous of her – I could see her appeal. She was very attractive. If I could meet Elvis “I guess I’d be tongue tied. I think I would ask him to sing for me – that would be nice.”
Elvis is not dead, writes Jane Peers, a sale advisor.
“Elvis is not dead to me as far as I’m concerned. He was just wonderful. I used to like Blue Suede Shoes.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Graceland. My friend is actually going this week.
“I’m a fan of his music. It was so tragic when he died. He was just fantastic and he had so much charisma.
“If I could meet him I’d say it’s a great pity that he couldn’t cope with his success more. But his legacy lives on.”
I have an Elvis tattoo on my leg, writes Sophie Davies, a mental health nurse.
“Ultimately I don’t have any memories of Elvis when he was alive as he passed away 13 years before I was born.
“I do have lots of memories of growing up and listening to his music though.
“I remember feeling happiness when I heard his songs. I still get the same feeling now when I hear his music.
“I also remember being teased at school because whilst other girls had picture of boy bands on their bedroom walls, mine were filled with pictures of Elvis.
“Elvis meant a lot to me and I have a tattoo of him on my leg. His music has got me through some tough times.
“If I feel sad and listen to his music it always cheers me up. I can really relate to some of the lyrics even though the songs are over 40 years old.”
I have visited Graceland three times, writes Paul Evans, a Civil Servant.
“I’m 42 this year so was only 2 when he died.
“I became a fan in 1987, the tenth anniversary of his death and the BBC were showing the concert documentary “Elvis on Tour” from 1972.
“I suddenly heard which to this day is still the greatest performance if Bridge Over Troubled Water, he sang the hell out of it with such passion, power and soul, I was hooked and still am 30 years later.
“I count myself very lucky as I have visited Graceland three times.
“For me there is no question he is the greatest live vocalist and performer of all time, he could sing anything from Rock, Blues, Country, Folk, Opera, Ballads, Gospel even Hawaiian.
“Simply he was the king!”
I wish I could have seen him live, writes Ben Lord, a business man.
“As I’m only 30, I wasn’t around in August 1977 however the music of the king has shaped my entire musical repertoire.
“You cannot beat the music of the 60’s and 70’s and Elvis left an indelible, eternal mark on that genre of music.
“I only wish I could’ve seen him live! There will only ever be one Elvis Presley and by crikey will his music legacy live on for generations to come!”
Long live the King, writes Rebecca Jasper, a mental health first aider.
“From aged 4 in 1976 I had a massive Elvis poster in my bedroom and have been a fan ever since.
“I was 5 when he died so not sure I knew it was the end, however, he’s been a big part of my life through his music.
“He just had such charisma which mesmerised! I do feel I’ve missed out never having the chance to see him perform live, long live the King.”
I can’t believe it has been 40 years, writes Jane Aldous, a sales assistant.
“I remember it was 1977 Summer I was 7 everyone was crying and saying Elvis is dead, as I was so young I didn’t really know what was going on.
“But I use to watch Elvis films in the school holidays they were on the TV so I knew who he was.
“I can’t believe it has been 40 years since he has died.”
I had an Elvis impersonator for my 18th birthday, writes Laura Stiff, a sales assistant.
My Grandad used to sing his songs and I’ve seen impersonators of Elvis. I even had one for my 18th birthday.
Our whole family loves Elvis. His songs are just so uplifting. When he died I wasn’t alive but my family remember what they were doing. It was just so unexpected. My favourite song of his is Burning Love. I just love the build up to it and it’s a great song to dance along to.
If he was still alive and I was able to meet him I’d ask him how he started. He went against the rules – he rebelled – so I’d ask him how he had the motivation to do that.
I have an Elvis tattoo on my foot, writes Sally Ann Watkins, a cleaner.
“I have been an Elvis fan since I was about 7, I am now 49.
“I have lots of memorabilia, including a life size cardboard cut out, Elvis wallpaper, clothing, books and an Elvis tattoo. I think I am his biggest fan!
“I admire him in all he achieved but mostly it’s a personal feeling, my nana and mum were big fans which is how I got into him, so it always gives me a warm and happy feeling as my nana passes away a long time ago.
“But it always takes me back to those happy childhood times, I just love him.”
I have created my own Elvis song from two Elvis interviews, writes Jacen Bruce, a musician.
“Elvis died on my 11th birthday and I was allowed to stay up late that night, we had the old black and white television on and there was a newsflash with the globe revolving (if you remember that).
“The news reader said Elvis Presley has died and then stopped to say wait a minute this is not confirmed.
“A few minutes later the newsflash came again and this time the sad, tragic news was confirmed.
“I was in a state of shock as Elvis was my hero and by far my favourite singer since I was just 5 years old when my parents gave me their vinyl from the 50s.
“Of course there was a huge amount of Elvis to discover and I’ve been a massive fan since.
“Don’t Be Cruel is not just my favourite Elvis song but my favourite track of all time.
“It’s my ring tone on my phone as Don’t Be Cruel is the only song that I can play over and over without getting bored of it.
“It was back in 1995 when I first went into a recording studio, I’d chosen a few tracks to cover and top of my list was Don’t Be Cruel, which was, and still is, my favourite song of all time.
“Even after so many years I still feel a buzz of anticipation when the bass-driven intro starts.
“The original recording is packed with great moments: from its pace and melody through to the superb musicianship, the less-is-more backing and, of course, Elvis’ incomparable vocal.
“For me, covering Don’t Be Cruel was about showing my appreciation of both Elvis and of a great piece of song-writing.
“If Elvis walked in the room right now - what would you say?
“First off I’d be speechless, meeting my hero, I’d probably just be a jittering mess and try not to talk nonsense.
“At the end of the day I’d probably say how does it feel to know that you’re music has changed the course of popular music and touched the lives of so many people all over the world?
“I’ve also written and recorded a song called I Can’t Stand Still which is taken from two Elvis 50s interviews where Elvis states why he can’t stand still. “I thought his words and sentiment made great lyrics for a song so I put them to music.
“I’d also ask Elvis what he thought of the song and if he would consider recording it as the words were his very own.”
He was an icon, writes Rob Castellani, a music lecturer.
“I was born in 87 so everything is retrospective looking back on his career.
“I grew up playing music around the house. I was a Beatles fan but inevitably you knew about Elvis and this impact he had.
“It was obvious he was a leading figure in the immergence and popularity of rock n roll.
“I liked his early era in the fifties and some of the TV specials he did. They show a snap shot of the best popular music of that time.
“As a musician learning about different styles you can go a lot deeper into the music.
“The very fact that his music is so popular decades after his death is a testament to how good he was.
“His passing was an important landmark and looking back at the footage of people going to Graceland to lay flowers – it was clearly an important moment in history.
“It is important figures like him that pushed the development of music throughout the generations –he was one of the first mass pop stars.
He was an icon.”