We started our Timeless series back in early June on the day after what would have been Marilyn Monroe's 90th birthday. We set out to examine the histories of Hollywood hunks who died too young and those who remain youthful in our memories. Today, take a glimpse at the life of Elvis Presley who died 39 years ago this week at the age of 42.
Today at Bacchus enjoy throwback tunes and $5 tequila (all tequila). You'll be glad you did.
In June 1956, Elvis Presley gyrated his hips for the first time on TV. "Elvis the Pelvis" earned his nickname (and then some) during his second appearance on the Milton Berle Show. During the 21-year-old singer’s rendition of "Hound Dog," he debuted his suggestive gyrating-hips movement for the first time, driving a nation of teenagers wild and their parents apoplectic. In that moment, the polarizing power of Elvis Presley was born.
The press compared his “Hound Dog” shimmy to a striptease, some with more vitriol than others; the New York Herald Tribune was one of the most furious outlets, slamming Presley as “unspeakably untalented and vulgar.” Religious organizations protested the implied sexual nature of the movements and the Parent-Teacher Association condemned Presley and rock & roll as instigators of juvenile delinquency. Today, the TV spot is heralded as one of Elvis’s greatest television performances (it also included "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You").
Elvis himself maintained that his movements were not meant to be sexualized; they were just his natural movement with the beat. However, for years afterward, TV shows only shot Presley from the waist up.
The incredible Elvis Presley life story began when Elvis Aaron Presley was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up as an only child. He and his parents moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, and Elvis graduated from Humes High School there in 1953.
Elvis’ musical influences were the pop and country music of the time, the gospel music he heard in church and at the all-night gospel sings he frequently attended, and the black R&B he absorbed on historic Beale Street as a Memphis teenager.
In 1954, Elvis began his singing career with the legendary Sun Records label in Memphis. In late 1955, his recording contract was sold to RCA Victor. By 1956, he was an international sensation. With a sound and style that uniquely combined his diverse musical influences and blurred and challenged the social and racial barriers of the time, he ushered in a whole new era of American music and popular culture.
Soon, Presley was everywhere—on the radio, television and the silver screen—working as a musician and actor. His first film, Love Me Tender (1956), was a box office hit. Even a stint in the U.S. military couldn't put a damper on Presley's thriving career. He received his draft notice in 1957, and was inducted into the Army the following March. He eventually served in Germany for about a year and a half. Shortly before Presley left for Europe, his beloved mother, Gladys, died. He was granted a leave and returned to Memphis for the funeral. Deeply saddened by her death, Presley returned to duty. While in Germany, his spirits were lifted slightly when he met a young teenager named Priscilla Beaulieu.
After leaving the Army in 1960, Presley resumed his career and was soon back at the top of the charts with the soundtrack for his film GI Blues. He continued recording music and acting in such films as Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Viva Las Vegas (1964). Though his films were often hit or miss with both critics and audiences, they brought in a profit and the soundtracks usually sold well.
Gay Rumors (of course there are gay rumors!)
Elvis notoriously had an inner circle of male hangers-on, bodyguards and staff, known as ‘The Memphis Mafia’. Although there were some stories of homoerotic horseplay, it was little more than you`d see in your average entertainer's dressing room or stag party hotel suite. There was a notable exception, however, that went beyond male bonding.
Actor Nick Adams was undoubtedly Presley’s best friend. Adams had previously lived with and had an affair with bisexual actor and teen icon, James Dean. Elvis and Nick met after Dean’s death, just as Presley’s star was starting to rise. The two became inseparable and the calming effect Adams had on Presley led his notoriously temperamental manager, Colonel Tom Parker to encourage the friendship.
Drugs and copious amounts of alcohol were a large component in the pair’s socializing, as they both struggled with the vagaries of fame (although Elvis` superstardom greatly eclipsed Adams comparatively humble acting career). According to Elvis biographer Kathleen Tracy, The King would often ask Adams “to stay over on nights”.
All of this is indicative of hardly anything other than a platonic bromance. But there was more to this than simple friendship. The two were rumored to regularly indulge in threesomes with female groupies and famous actresses. One notorious documented third in these sexual encounters was actress Natalie Wood. Several sources including New York Times reporter Danforth Prince, biographer Darwin Porter, and Adams’ personal assistant William Dakota, claimed the pair indulged in oral sex with each other and mutual masturbation. Elvis` doctor and confidant, George C. Nichopoulos also hinted in interviews about Elvis`s same-sex dalliances, although undoubtedly one must question the word of any medical professional who is willing to divulge confidential information about a patient, especially gossip that was posthumously profitable.
If proof that Elvis was indeed queer were released today, decades after his death, it would still generate global headlines. So can you imagine how much of a tabloid goldmine it would have been in the first years after his death, when all the hangers-on came out of the woodwork peddling hearsay and scoops.
In February 1968, Nick's body was found slumped against a bedroom wall in his home and an autopsy found Adams had enough prescription drugs in his body to cause instant unconsciousness. There were suspicions that it was murder or suicide but his best friend, the actor Robert Conrad, constantly maintained Nick Adams' death was accidental.
Elvis at 30
By the late 1960s, Elvis appeared to be losing his box office appeal. Wanting to prover he was still the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," he recorded his first TV special in 1968, often referred to as the "'68 Comeback." He wowed audiences with his performance, which showcased his talents as a singer and a guitarist.
Around this time, Presley's personal life also seemed to be on an upswing. He and Priscilla wed in 1967 and had a daughter, Lisa Marie, the following year. Unfortunately, this joyous time would not last. By the early 1970s, Presley was also wrestling with other personal problems, including a growing addiction to prescription drugs; the once-thin rock star was battling a weight problem, and his destructive lifestyle caught up with him that fall, when he was hospitalized for drug-related health problems.
Elvis and Priscilla divorced in 1973, and Priscilla received custody of Lisa Marie.
Despite his personal obstacles, Presley remained a popular draw in Las Vegas and on tour. He adopted the flamboyant style of Liberace and became a Las Vegas spectacle and toured the nation.
Some reviews indicated that he was bloated and often forgetting lyrics, but ever he entertainer, he could charm audiences with witty banter and humor. He did enjoy his rants:
He performed at his last concert in June 1977, in Indianapolis, Indiana. After the concert, he returned home to his Memphis mansion, Graceland, to prepare for another tour.
Sometime in the morning of August 16, 1977, Presley died of heart failure, at the age of 42. It was later ruled that his death was related to his prescription drug use.
Presley was buried on the Graceland property, near the gravesites of his mother, Gladys, father Vernon and grandmother Minnie Mae Hood Presley.
Throughout his amazing career, Presley helped popularize rock 'n' roll music in America. He also won three Grammy Awards for his gospel recordings. A major musical force, Presley had 18 No. 1 singles, including "Don't Be Cruel," "Good Luck Charm" and "Suspicious Minds," as well as countless gold and platinum albums. He was one of the first performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1986). But Elvis has been recognized for his contributions several musical genres, most notably rock, country and gospel. In 1998, Presley was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame; three years later, he was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame.