The Secret to Elvis’s Pristine Pompadour & 79 Other Hip-Swivelling Facts
To mark the 40th anniversary of his death (August 16), we’ve compiled plenty of fascinating facts about the life, work, and influence of the “King of Rock and Roll.”
1. Though commonly associated with Memphis, Elvis was born in Tupelo, Miss., on Jan. 8, 1935. His family moved to Memphis when Elvis was 13.
2. Elvis was a twin. His brother, Jesse Garon Presley, born before him, died at birth.
3. Elvis and David Bowie have the same birthday (p.s. Happy birthday, David Bowie!).
4. As a child, Elvis’ family was very poor, often relying on government assistance.
5. A deadly tornado tore through Tupelo, Miss., when Elvis was a baby, killing more than 200 people.
6. Elvis boasts relations to former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter (distant cousin) and Abraham Lincoln (Elvis is a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln’s second great grandfather Isaiah Harrison).
7. In his youth, Elvis was a sleepwalker.
8. He also sang in a talent show. He came in fifth place.
9. At 12 years of age, Elvis’s mom bought him his first guitar. He’d wanted a bicycle.
10. Presley’s grade 8 music teacher gave him a “C” in her class.
11. Before hitting it big Elvis held many blue-collar jobs, including movie theatre usher and truck driver.
12. Wood shop was Elvis’s favourite subject in high school.
13. He also joined his high school boxing team.
14. Some consider Elvis’s 1954 single “That’s All Right (Mama)” as the world’s first rock ‘n’ roll record.
15. Television talent show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a precursor to the American Idol’s of today, actually turned Elvis down when he attempted to land a spot on the show in 1955.
16. Presley’s debut album, Elvis Presley, released in March of 1956, became the first rock ‘n’ roll album in history to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts.
17. Some of Elvis’s first concerts didn’t go over well, with one reviewer likening them to “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.”
18. Elvis is described as a “folk music fireball” in one of the earliest magazine articles written about him, a 1955 piece in Country Song Roundup.
19. Ed Sullivan said he wouldn’t have Elvis appearing on his show. That lasted until Elvis’s appearance on Sullivan-rival Steve Allen’s talk show garnered big ratings. Sullivan then promptly secured Elvis for three shows.
20. Mobs in some U.S. cities burned Elvis in effigy, believing him to be a bad role model following his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
21. At some of Elvis’s early concerts, the National Guard was called in to act as security.
22. Elvis only ever performed outside of the United States three times, and all three times were in Canada. In 1957, he played Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
23. Some claim Elvis’s music video for the single “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957 was the first ever music video, while others cite Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise” video from the year before as the inaugural video.
24. When filming Kid Galahad in 1961, Elvis was given a director’s chair with the name “Mr. Presley” on the back. After expressing his dislike for the formal name on the chair, it was replaced with a much more satisfactory one that read “Just plain ol’ Elvis.”
25. Elvis was reportedly rather smitten with Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery.
26. Some of Elvis’s celebrity romances included Candice Bergen, Ann-Margret, Cybill Shepherd, Connie Stevens and Natalie Wood.
27. Elvis met future wife Priscilla while stationed with the U.S. army in Germany.
28. Elvis was originally pegged to star as Tony in the musical West Side Story. His manager Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea, however, and the part went to Richard Beymer.
29. Until the day he died, Elvis lavished Ann-Margret with flowers whenever she debuted a new Las Vegas act.
30. Elvis only ever endorsed one product in his lifetime: Texas-based Southern Maid Doughnuts.
31. Elvis was reportedly a huge fan of James Dean and was emotionally distraught when he passed away.
32. The person who inspired Elvis’s trademark mane? Robert Mitchum.
33. One of the secrets to styling and maintaining his famous hairdo: a combination of Vaseline and rose oil.
34. Elvis’s natural hair colour is brown; he dyed his hair black.
35. After recording “If I Can Dream,” Elvis was so exhausted he passed out.
36. “Scatter” was Elvis’s pet chimp. He also had a pet turkey called “Bow Tie.”
37. Elvis’s nicknames, other than the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” included “The Memphis Flash,” The King of Western Bop,” “Big E,” “The Chief” and “The Hillbilly Cat.”
38. When described as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” by a journalist, Elvis declined the crown and instead directed the title to Fats Domino.
39. Elvis was a karate black belt.
40. Elvis was an insomniac.
41. It’s said that Elvis was extremely generous, to the point that he would even gift personal possessions to people – from loved ones to strangers – who showed any admiration of them.
42. Elvis gifted Muhammad Ali with a robe emblazoned with the phrase “The People’s Champion.”
43. Elvis was not a fan of the Beatles or their purported bad influence on young people. The Beatles, however, grew up admiring Elvis and couldn’t wait to meet him when they came to America for the first time.
44. The idea for Elvis to wear more flamboyant outfits in concert came from none other than Liberace.
45. Elvis went under the knife in the 1970s, receiving a rhinoplasty and two facelifts.
46. Elvis’s 1973 Aloha from Hawaii TV special drew more viewers than the moon landing.
47. The Holy Bible and The Impersonal Life by Joseph Benner were Elvis’s two favourite books.
48. Elvis was a born-again Christian.
49. Football and racquetball were reportedly Elvis’s favourite sports.
50. In 1960, while in jail on charges of theft, singer Barry White heard the Elvis tune “It’s Now or Never” and vowed to dedicate his life to music.
51. Comedian Eddie Murphy credits Elvis as the person who inspired him to pursue a career in show business.
52. Every one of Elvis’s 31 films was profitable, except for one: 1961’s Wild in the Country.
53. One film part Elvis always wanted to play but was not considered for: Don Corleone in The Godfather. The role went to Marlon Brando.
54. Rolling Stone magazine named Elvis the third greatest musical artist of all time, behind the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
55. It’s estimated that Elvis has sold between 500 million and a billion records worldwide – more than any other artist in history.
56. Elvis holds the record for the third most Billboard No. 1 hits with 17, following the Beatles (20) and Mariah Carey (18).
57. Among Elvis’s many celebrity fans were Robert Plant and John Paul Jones – members of Led Zeppelin – who counted him among their musical heroes.
58. All three of Elvis’s Grammys were awarded for his gospel music.
59. Despite his massive success and future estate earnings, Elvis reportedly only had $5 million when he passed away.
60. Elvis’s last public performance was in 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His final song: “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” In private, his final tune came on Aug. 15, 1977, where he performed before loved ones at home. The song: “My Baby Left Me.”
61. Elvis’s last words in public were reportedly spoken to his assistant and concerned an upcoming concert tour: “Billy, son, this is gonna be my best tour ever.”
62. The last book Elvis had been reading was The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus.
63. Elvis’s middle name at birth was listed as “Aron,” but as he preferred the biblical spelling “Aaron,” that’s what his father had inscribed on his tombstone.
64. Elvis weighed 260 pounds when he passed away. In contrast, around the time of his army service he weighed 170 pounds.
65. The year he died, 1977, Elvis was the top touring act in the United States.
66. While one might have expected a star-studded line-up at Presley’s funeral, only three attended: James Brown, George Hamilton and Ann-Margret.
67. Both Bela Lugosi and Babe Ruth died on the same day as Elvis, just in different years.
68. Legendary comedian Groucho Marx died three days after Elvis.
69. Actors who’ve portrayed Elvis on TV or in film include Kurt Russell (Elvis, 1971, and as Elvis’ voice in Forrest Gump, 1994), Don Johnson (Elvis and the Beauty Queen, 1981), Harvey Keitel (Finding Graceland, 1998), Bruce Campbell (Bubba Ho-Tep, 2002), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Elvis, 2005) and Frank Stallone (Angels with Angles, 2005).
70. Kurt Russell also debuted in a film starring Elvis, 1963’s It Happened at the World’s Fair. He even had a scene with Presley, where he kicked him in the leg.
71. In 2006, Graceland became a recognized U.S. National Historic Landmark.
72. Only one home in the U.S. receives more visitors a year than Graceland: the White House.
73. It was Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla, who made Graceland into the tourist attraction that it is today.
74. The National Rifle Association created an “Elvis Presley Tribute Revolver” in 2007.
75. Elvis ranked as the second-highest earning dead celebrity in 2014, with $55 million. The only person ahead of him? Michael Jackson.
76. Elvis is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
77. Grenada was the first country to put Elvis’s face on a stamp.
78. Other nations followed suit, including the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Liberia, Guinea, Antigua and St. Vincent.
79. There’s a nearly 2000-year-old Roman statue discovered that looks a lot like Elvis.
80. Elvis has four grandchildren.