Elvis Aaron Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American performer who spanned all media—music, film, and historic live concerts—with a vehement passion that earned him the moniker, “The King of Rock and Roll.”
Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi to Gladys and Vernon Presley. At the age of 13, he moved with his family to Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis began to explore the blues scene prevalent in Memphis and the culture it encompassed.
In August 1953, he walked into Sun Records to record a song for his mother’s birthday. Manager of Sun Records Sam Phillips took note of his unique voice and persona, and invited Elvis back to the studio in July 1954, where he ultimately recorded his first true single, “That’s All Right,” with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as the B-side.
Elvis was soon noticed by Colonel Tom Parker, considered one of the best promoters in the industry. This partnership was pivotal to Elvis' career, but considered controversial and toxic by his friends, family, and biographers. Parker moved him to RCA Records, and his first RCA single – “Heartbreak Hotel” – was released in January 1956 and became a number one hit in the U.S. Elvismania had truly begun.
In March of 1958, Elvis was inducted into the U.S. Army. During his army career, two pivotal events occurred that affected the rest of his life. First, his mother Gladys died on August 14, 1958. Completely and utterly devoted to his mother, Elvis truly never recovered from her death. However, while stationed in West Germany, Elvis met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he dated for seven years before marrying her on May 1, 1967. They had one daughter, Lisa Marie, on February 1, 1968.
After being discharged from the army, Elvis continued to release singles, but was also pushed into a heavy film-making schedule, making sub-par, formulaic films that were hits at the box office, but destroyed critically.
In 1968, Elvis was depressed and unsatisfied with his career, and his popularity was sinking. However, on December 3, 1968, a television special, Singer Presents Elvis, aired—a small concert that was his first live performance since 1961. More famously known as the ‘68 Comeback Special, it revitalized his career, especially as a live performer.
Despite his success and renewed pride in his career, Elvis' health and personal life was declining. His marriage fell apart, and he and Priscilla divorced in October 1973. Four years later, on August 16, 1977, Elvis' fiance, Ginger Alden, found him on the bathroom floor, unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
Elvis Presley’s life was short, but his legacy is vast. He holds the record for most singles on the U.S. charts (149), most RIAA certificates by a single artist (235), most number one albums in the U.S. by a solo artist (nine), and many more groundbreaking achievements. But his legacy is not just remembered in numbers alone. Elvis began a new era for music and pop culture. For many, he was the leader in a new movement of raw, powerful music and performances, uninhibited by the rules of yesteryear. As Rev. Al Green said, “He broke the ice for all of us.” He inspired many artists after him, including The Beatles, Jackie Wilson, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Rick Nelson, and many, many, more.
Perhaps Elvis Presley is best remembered in this touching quote from one of his biggest fans, Bruce Springsteen:
It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.