Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi to Vernon and Gladys Presley. His twin brother, Jesse Garon, was stillborn. Elvis grew up in humble circumstances and moved frequently with his working-class family. However, he was very close to his parents, especially his mother Gladys.
The Presley family attended the Assembly of God church, and the gospel music he heard there, along with country, rhythm and blues, and black spiritual music, were major influences on Elvis from a young age.
Table 1. Facts – Elvis’ Early Life and Influences
|Vernon and Gladys Presley
|Birthdate and Location
|January 8, 1935; Tupelo, MS
|Twin brother Jesse Garon was stillborn
|Early Musical Influences
|Gospel, country, R&B, black spirituals
First Guitar and High School
When Elvis was 11, his parents could not afford the bicycle he wanted and bought him his first guitar instead. Soon after starting guitar lessons, Elvis began to show interest in performing.
Elvis was considered a loner and outsider in high school. However, he began to establish his musical talents, gaining a reputation as a pop singer and guitarist. He began performing at school events and informal concerts.
Early Music Career and Sun Records
After graduating high school in 1953, Elvis began working as a truck driver while pursuing his music career. He recorded his first demo record at Sun Records in 1953, as a gift for his mother.
In 1954, Elvis auditioned for Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, hoping to receive professional guidance. This key audition launched his extraordinary career in music and entertainment.
Elvis’ Breakout Period and Rise to Stardom
Elvis’ first single, “That’s All Right,” was released by Sun Records in 1954. Its innovative blend of country and R&B caught the attention of American youth. His second single quickly followed.
In 1956, Elvis signed with RCA Records. His first album featured his smash #1 hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” Within weeks it sold over 300,000 copies, launching Elvis into stardom at age 21.
Table 2. Key Hits During Elvis’ Breakout Period
|“That’s All Right”
|First commercial single
|First #1 pop hit
A Controversial Image
Elvis embodied the rebellious spirit of 1950s youth and created a sensation with his dynamic performing style. His gyrating hips and “bad boy” image caused controversy among parents.
Nonetheless, young audiences embraced Elvis’ fusion of musical genres andSupported by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis leveraged his fame into acting roles and television appearances further heightening his visibility. unique style. This base of loyal fans supported massive sales of Elvis’ singles and albums.
Military Service in Germany
In 1958, at the peak of his fame, Elvis was drafted into the military at age 23. He served in Germany for two years and was discharged in 1960. While Elvis worried that his fans would forget him, his manager ensured his public profile was maintained.
Peak Period – Hollywood and Comeback (1960s)
When Elvis returned from service, rather than primarily focusing on music he turned his attention to acting. While serving in the Army, Elvis had missed important career development opportunities available to his rock and roll peers. Consequently, Col. Parker decided to steer Elvis toward Hollywood film roles accompanied by music soundtracks.
For much of the 1960s, the pattern of Elvis alternating between mediocre films and their accompanying soundtracks successfully sustained his career. Hits from this era include songs like “GI Blues” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Table 3. Movie Roles and Hits – Elvis in the 1960s
|“Can’t Help Falling in Love”
|Viva Las Vegas
|“Viva Las Vegas”
1968 Comeback Special
By 1968, Elvis was frustrated with the direction of his career and lack of touring opportunities. This frustration fueled him to negotiate a dramatic TV comeback special, simply titled Elvis, aired in December 1968.
Clad in black leather and surrounded by fans, Elvis harkened back to his early days as a rock and roller. The excitement and energy reminded fans that he still had that magic – setting the stage for a major career reboot.
Las Vegas Concert Years and Declining Health (1969-1977)
Following his successful comeback special, Elvis embarked on a return to live concert performances – primarily through an ongoing Las Vegas residency. From 1969 through 1976, Elvis performed over 600 sold-out shows in Las Vegas and broke all existing attendance records for the city.
Table 4. Key Facts and Figures – Elvis’ Las Vegas Years
|# of concerts in Las Vegas
|Typical consecutive annual shows
|6-8 week stretches, twice annually
|Total # of spectators
|Over 2.5 million
|Record attendance set
|Over 57,500 viewers at once in April 1972
Health Struggles and Career Slowdown
Although Elvis remained productive with touring schedules and occasional acting roles in the early 70s, his physical and mental health was suffering. Sadly, he had developed severe prescription drug dependencies trying to maintain his demanding lifestyle.
By the mid-1970s, Elvis’ performances lacked energy and his appearance had deteriorated dramatically. Though his loyal fans remained supportive, Elvis was frustrated that his health prevented him from doing his best work.
Final Concert and Death in 1977
Elvis’ final concert was held on June 26, 1977 in Indianapolis. Just over a month later, on August 16, 1977, Elvis died suddenly in his Graceland home at only 42 years old. The reported cause was cardiac arrest, likely associated with prescription drug overuse and poor health.
It was a tragic and too early demise of an incredible entertainer who had influenced music and culture like no other artist before or since. Elvis’ legacy and contribution remains unmatched decades later.
Elvis’ Estate and Continued Relevance Today
Although Elvis died unexpectedly young, he had accumulated significant wealth and assets during his lifetime – estimated at around $5 million. This included his beloved Graceland mansion, a custom Convair 880 jet, and a massive collection of cars.
Graceland was opened to paid public tours just months after Elvis’ death. Today, over 600,000 visitors from around the world visit Memphis every year to tour Graceland and other significant Elvis sites. These tourist visits generate an estimated $150 million in economic benefit to the city annually.
Table 5. Facts – Graceland and Elvis’ Estate Today
|Total # Graceland visitors per year
|Total annual city revenue
|Approx. $150 million
|#2 Most visited home in U.S.
|Behind White House
|Total records sold to date
Legendary Status and Pop Culture Relevance
Though decades have passed since his death, Elvis Presley remains instantly recognizable around the globe. He helped popularize rock ‘n roll music internationally, starred in 33 hit films, and set records that still stand today.
Elvis sightings and impersonators are plentiful in pop culture. His music and image continues to be used in films, TV shows, commercials and more. Over 1 billion Elvis records have sold worldwide, keeping his sound and legacy as relevant as ever.
Frequently Asked Questions About Elvis
How did Elvis get his big break?
Elvis got his big break at age 19 when he recorded his first demo with Sun Records producer Sam Phillips in 1953. Phillips saw Elvis’ potential, agreeing “to work with the rough, soulful Memphis street singer if he would promise to not deviate from the sound that sold Phillips on him in the first place.” This launched Elvis’ career.
Why was Elvis so controversial?
Elvis’ dance moves – like pelvic gyrations – and his overall persona as a “bad boy” broke social norms in the 1950s. Many parents saw his brazen style as threatening. Elvis’ music also heavily incorporated black R&B influences which received pushback from traditionalists.
Was Elvis’ full name always Elvis?
Elvis was born Elvis Aron Presley. In 1965, he expressed frustration that his real middle name was misspelled “Aron” on his gravestone. He legally changed the spelling to the traditional “A