Elvis Presley, the Man Behind the Image
The distinctive name invokes a range of responses whenever it's spoken. But what is the story of the real man behind the fame and the music?
Elvis Presley was a generous man, a compassionate man, an avid reader, a collector of guns, a karate expert. He traveled in fast circles of fame, fans and foes and often overlooked the distinctions between them. He also had a passion for fast cars, beautiful cars, even pink cars. His collection of fine automobiles included a 1975 Dino Ferrari 308 GT4 Coupe, a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II and a 1973 Stutz Black Hawk in which Elvis went home to Graceland for the last time on August 16, 1977.
His 1955 pink Cadillac is one of the most famous cars in the world. He owned motorcycles including a 1966 Harley chopper, 1965 Honda and two 1976 Harley Davidson Electra-Glide 1200 bikes. His collections included a fleet of golf carts, go-carts, dune buggies, snowmobiles and jets. A private pistol range was nestled near his racquetball court in the serenity of his five hundred acre horse farm in Memphis, Tennessee known as Graceland.
Elvis owned two jets which were used for fun and travel during his hectic concert tours of 1975–77. The “Lisa Marie” was also referred to as his “Flying Graceland” and featured a conference room with six leather chairs, a living room with suede sofas, televisions, video cassette recorders and a quadraphonic stereo, popular in the era for its realistic sound effects.
He bought a former commercial airline which seated ninety six passengers, the Convair 880 plane, for a quarter of a million dollars in 1975 and spent an additional seven hundred fifty thousand dollars in refurbishing it. His other jet is a ten passenger Lockheed Jet Star with a galley, a bar, a private lavatory and a Sony stereo system.
The Presley's Home in Tupelo
A man of humble beginnings, Elvis was the second born of a set of identical twins on January 8, 1935; his brother Jessie Garon Presley was stillborn. Elvis was named after his father, Vernon Elvis Presley, a hard working man who moved his family from their two room home in Tupelo MS where Elvis was born. They moved to Memphis, TN, where the Presley family would continue to struggle, residing in public housing in the poor neighborhoods. A grateful and dedicated son, Elvis worked part time jobs to help support his family while attending Humes High School.
His overwhelming presence remains at Graceland, surrounded by his collection of magnificent guitars a 1956 Gibson J-200, his Stradivarius-copy violin, his ebony Story & Clark baby grand piano and the gracious appointments in his memory-filled home. This was a man of many musical talents.
His gratitude, generosity and humility were rare for someone so entrenched in stardom. It was not unusual for Elvis to give money to strangers. His wisdom revealed itself with the story of his tossing five thousand dollars out of the upstairs window of his hotel room. The money landed on a crowd of well dressed and pretentious “high society people”. When they scrambled into the fountain to claim the fallen cash, Elvis remarked, “See, they’re not so high class after all.”
During Elvis’s twenty-three year career he received numerous plaques and keys to the city with proclamations and honors from his many fans.
In December 1970, Elvis met then President Richard Nixon in the Oval office of the White House. He presented Mr. Nixon with an antique gun as a gift from his sizable gun collection which included a gold Pietro Baretta, two Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums, a Python .357 Magnum, a Colt Frontier Scout .22, a Derringer, and three Colt 45 automatics. Mr. Nixon gave Elvis a genuine Federal Narcotics Agent badge for his collection, which later led to idle speculation that Elvis was really an undercover agent.
Elvis’ generosity included an annual tradition to issue checks to at least fifty charities. Beyond the well documented gifts from his benefit concerts, little is mentioned about the cash he gave to friends and strangers, the hospital bills he paid to support needy families, the homes he bought and cars given away with little if any public recognition. Elvis never forgot what it was like to be poor.
In 1961, Elvis performed a benefit concert raising over $65,000 toward building of the U.S.S. Arizona World War II Memorial in Hawaii, whose completion had stalled due to lack of funds. His contribution was the largest single donation to the project and engendered a renewed level of public and media attention that enabled the project’s completion. The U.S. Navy placed a wreath at the memorial in honor of Elvis at the news of his death in 1977.
Elvis Presley with Richard Nixon 1970
Elvis was an entertainer who not only gave back to the community, he served his country completing a tour of duty in the Army during his incredibly popular years, 1958-60. Although often requested to do so, he maintained a personal commitment not to perform in concert during his time of service. These silent years were marked with two significant events that would forever change the young singer’s life: the death of his Mother at the age of forty-six and Elvis’ introduction to Priscilla Ann Beau lieu, who years later would become Elvis’ wife and mother of his child, Lisa Marie Presley.
The Hall of Gold Albums at Graceland
Graceland’s Hall of Gold houses gold and platinum albums and singles, representing the sale of over one billion records worldwide, beyond that of any other entertainer in recording history. Elvis was nominated for fourteen Grammy awards, taking home three for “How Great Thou Art” in 1967, for the gospel album “He Touched Me” in 1972 and for a live concert performance of “How Great Thou Art” in 1974. His lifetime achievement award was earned at the age of thirty-six.
Pool at Graceland
Elvis had 149 songs listed among the top 100 pop singles chart, 114 of which made it to the top forty, with 40 singles in the top ten. Eighteen singles made it all the way to number one of Billboard’s Hot 100 list, among these number one hits: Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t Be Cruel, Hound Dog and Love Me Tender (from 1956); Teddy Bear, Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up (1957); Don’t, and Hard Headed Woman (1958). Are You Lonesome Tonight reached the number two spot in 1960,and his singles Good Luck Charm (1962), Suspicious Minds and In the Ghetto (1969) which reached number one status, bring back fond memories in a time when a new genre of music of the Love Generation began to overtake Rock ‘n Roll.
This once shy boy who climbed the ladder of success retained a sense of gratitude and humor, who beyond being gifted, remained respectful of his parents, in particular his mother, Gladys Presley, whom he adored. What’s not to love about an appreciative, grateful and talented child who loved his Mama?
If you visit Memphis, Tennessee, be sure and take the time to spend a day surrounded by the memories of this great man, Elvis Presley, and visit his beloved home. These few words fall short of the depth of the man but Graceland will touch your heart.
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© 2010 Peg Cole