Fascinating Facts About The King, Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was more than just the King of Rock ’n’ Roll — he was a record-setter, a trend-setter and an utter original whose signature style has inspired more than 85,000 working impersonators to carry on his legacy four decades after his death. Sure, you know the hit songs, the jumpsuits, the summer-fun films and the legendary appetite — but we’ve dug deep into Presley’s life to assemble facts and curiosities about “The Pelvis” (a nickname he hated) that may surprise even his most diehard fans.
Elvis By The Numbers
The King, The Firsts
First performed for a large audience at age 10 on Oct. 3, 1945, standing on a chair and belting out “Old Shep” in a youth talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show in Tupelo, Miss.
First guitar was a $6.95 gift from his parents in 1946 — he wanted a bike instead but they couldn’t afford it.
First recorded performance happened in 1953 when he went to Memphis Recording Service, home of the Sun Records label, and made a demo of “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as a birthday present for his mom, Gladys. Sun Records chief Sam Phillips’ assistant brought Presley to his attention.
First single on Sun Records — “That’s All Right” in the summer of 1954.
First and only Grand Ole Opry appearance happened on Oct. 2, 1954. He wasn’t well-received. Two weeks later, his appearance on the Opry’s competitor, Louisiana Hayride, was a hit and he signed a multi-year contract.
First RCA recording contract was signed Nov. 21, 1955. Sun Records sold his contract to RCA for $35,000, plus a $5,000 signing bonus for Elvis.
First national network television appearance was in 1956, when Elvis made the first of six appearances on Stage Show, a weekly variety program hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.
First No. 1 studio album, the eponymous Elvis Presley, which also happened to be Presley’s debut studio album, was released in March ’56. The album, which included the hit song “Blue Suede Shoes,” spent 10 weeks at the top of the charts.
First time he dyed his hair jet black was for the 1957 film Loving You, because the film’s makeup supervisor thought it would play up his eyes.
First major purchase as a star was in 1957 when Elvis spent $102,500 on his legendary Graceland mansion for himself, his parents and his paternal grandmother.
First diamond-certified album was October 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album featuring “Blue Christmas.” It remains the bestselling holiday album in the U.S.
The King’s Queens
Anita Wood (1957-1962)
Elvis called the budding actress Little Bitty and she put her career on hold for him. Wood discovered he was also wooing Priscilla Beaulieu while he was stationed in Germany when she found a letter from Priscilla and eventually left him.
Priscilla Beaulieu (1959-1973)
The stepdaughter of an Air Force officer also stationed in Germany, “Cilla” met Elvis in September 1959 at a party at his house. After exchanging letters and phone calls, he persuaded her parents to let her move to Graceland in 1963 by promising to marry her when she was an appropriate age. They finally wed in 1967 and had daughter Lisa Marie nine months later. Elvis loved the baby, but not the amount of Priscilla’s time and attention she demanded. An increasingly frustrated Priscilla fell in love with karate instructor Mike Stone, and she and Elvis divorced amicably in 1973. They remained friends.
Linda Thompson (1972-1976)
Then Miss Tennessee Universe, the fresh-faced Thompson met Elvis in 1972, losing her virginity to the patient Elvis three months after they began dating.
Ginger Alden (1976-Presley’s death in 1977)
Alden, a Priscilla lookalike whose father was present at Elvis’ induction into the Army, met Presley when she tagged along with her sister Terry — then Miss Tennessee — to Elvis’ house. Lavishing the 20-year-old with attention and gifts, he proposed three months after they began dating, promising her the wedding of the century, but died before they could marry. He said his last words — “I’m going to the bathroom to read” — to her.
Elvis The Fashionista
He wore dress pants and ascots in high school, buying his clothes at Lansky Bros. on Beale Street.
He liked to wear pink because it was his mother’s favorite color.
He didn’t wear jeans because that was all he had to wear as a child. He preferred silk shirts and tailored trousers and avoided shorts because he thought his legs were too skinny.
He and Priscilla designed the original “TCB” and “TLC” necklaces in 1971, and Memphis jeweler Lowell Hays created them for Elvis and his closest intimates.
His famous aviator sunglasses were the Polaroid 8004 model with cut-out arms, which he reportedly had customized with prescription lenses and real gold.
Bill Belew designed the infamous jumpsuits of the ’70s, working with Elvis from 1968 until the singer’s death. Belew made the elaborate one-pieces out the same material figure skaters wore, in order to accommodate the singer’s karate moves without tearing. Many featured elaborate embroidery by up-and-coming designer Gene Doucette.
Elvis’ favorite jumpsuits were the Dragon and the Peacock, but his all-time favorite was the American Eagle suit he wore for Aloha From Hawaii.
One Elvis jumpsuit could easily take a month of steady work with prices Doucette estimates at $25,000 to $50,000 each in the 1970s.
Belew also designed the black leather suit for the ’68 comeback special, which had to be peeled from his body following the show.
Elvis never fully conquered his stage fright.
Elvis was haunted his whole life by the death of his twin (brother Jesse Garon was stillborn). Liberace — also a twinless twin — counseled him on surviving the guilt.
While serving in the Army, Elvis was awarded medals for expert marksmanship and sharpshooting.
Elvis loved cars. Of the many he owned, the most famous was his 1955 customized pink Cadillac Fleetwood — a gift to his mother. Because she couldn’t drive, Elvis and his band members used it instead.
Elvis’ generous use of backup singers helped make it a viable, lucrative career.
Ed Sullivan rescinded his Elvis ban when rival Steve Allen scored high ratings when Elvis performed on his show. Sullivan paid Elvis $50,000 for three appearances and became a fan in the process.
In 1961, Elvis gave a benefit concert at Bloch Arena in Hawaii that raised roughly $65,000 toward the building of the U.S.S. Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor.
During a get-together in his Las Vegas hotel room in the ’70s that included Alice Cooper, Chubby Checker, Liza Minnelli and Linda Lovelace, Elvis handed Cooper a loaded .38 to show him how he could disarm someone. Cooper admits he fleetingly entertained the idea of being the guy who shot Elvis, but Elvis knocked him down first.
The ticket price for 1973’s Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite special was whatever attendees could pay. Proceeds went to the Kui Lee Cancer Center. Roughly a third of the planet’s total population tuned in to the broadcast.
Feast For A King
His favorite meal was christened the Fool’s Gold Loaf. Its assembly went like this: One loaf of Italian white bread was smeared with margarine and baked for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Meanwhile, one pound of bacon was fried and drained. The bread was sliced lengthwise, hollowed out and smeared with peanut butter and blueberry jam, and then paved with the bacon. Though it theoretically served 8-10 people, Elvis could — and often did — eat the whole thing himself.
He liked things cooked to a crisp. “That’s burnt, man!” was actually a compliment.
His favorite dessert was Del Monte fruit cocktail with coconut flakes, raisins and mini-marshmallows.
Elvis’ Shopping List
Elvis insisted these items be on hand at Graceland at all times:
* Fresh, lean unfrozen ground round steak
* One case regular Pepsi
* One case orange drink
* At least six cans of biscuits
* Hamburger buns
* Potatoes and onions
* Assorted fresh fruit
* Cans of sauerkraut
* At least three bottles of milk, and half and half
* Lean bacon
* Peanut butter
* Fresh, hand-squeezed cold orange juice
* Banana pudding
* Ingredients for meatloaf and sauce
* Ice cream (vanilla and chocolate)
* Shredded coconut
* Fudge cookies
* Gum (Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicy Fruit — three packs each)
* Cigars (El Producto Diamond Tips and Altas)
The Medicine Chest
Though he became tragically addicted to prescription medication, Elvis also demanded these over-the-counter items be kept on hand.
* Super Anahist
* Feen-a-mint laxative gum