Elvis Presley


Who: Elvis Aaron Presley

What: American musician and actor

Where: Born Tupelo, Mississippi; died Memphis, Tennessee

Why: Best-selling solo artist in history 

When: Born January 8 1935, died August 16 1977

“I don’t know anything about music. In my line you don’t have to.” – Elvis Presley

One of the most important cultural exports America has ever produced, and the best-selling solo artist of all time (selling over a billion records), Elvis Presley started his life in near poverty. He was born in 1935, along with a stillborn twin brother Jesse, to parents Gladys and Vernon Presley, a sewing-machine operator and a truck driver. Vernon spent eight months in prison when Elvis, an only child, was three, and attended the First Assembly of God Church where Elvis first began to sing. He received his first guitar in 1946 for his eleventh birthday, and the family moved to Memphis in 1948. Graduating from high school in 1953, he originally aspired to be a truck driver, playing music at night, until he was noticed by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, signing a four-year contract on August 15 1954. He shot to stardom quickly, soon becoming too popular for Sun, where his contract was sold to RCA Victor for the record sum of $35,000. He bought a converted church, the 23-room mansion Graceland in March 1957. In December that year he received his draft notice, and served two years in the US Army from 1958 after a 60-day deferment to film King Creole, the last of his early, critically acclaimed films. Whilst stationed in Germany, he met his future wife Priscilla, with whom he would have a daughter, Lisa Marie. Upon leaving the Army in 1960, he began recording new songs and filming new movies, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, began to exploit his fame and produced poor quality songs and films in vast quantities. In 1968 he staged a famous ‘Comeback Special’ in an hour-long television special, Elvis, and began playing the International Hotel in Las Vegas for four weeks a year until 1974. Prescription drug and alcohol abuse took their toll on the singer, whose health deteriorated, and he died aged 42 at Graceland in 1977.

Presley on the Milton Berle show, 1956

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