As The King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley reigned over the American music scene of the 1950s and 60s with his gyrating hips and smooth voice. Throughout his tumultuous career, Elvis kick-started rockabilly, stirred up controversy, and was adored by rabid fans across the world. Here are some tidbits you might not have known about the man, the legend, the king.
Elvis Presley Facts
1. A Star Is Born
Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 to Gladys Presley and her husband Vernon. His childhood was far from plush: Gladys gave birth to her son in a hand-made, two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi.
2. Keep on Truckin’
When Presley first started trying to make it in the music business, not everyone believed in him. He failed several auditions because he didn’t have an ear for harmony, and had to take up truck driving to make ends meet. One musician even rejected him with some utterly cruel words: He told him to stay as a trucker “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.”
3. A Tall Order
Elvis stood at six feet tall and had size 11 shoes.
4. Mirror Image
From his very first breath, Elvis carried a tragedy in his heart. The King of Rock and Roll was actually a twin, but his older, identical brother Jesse was stillborn just 35 minutes before Elvis came into the world. Elvis’s long-lost sibling haunted the singer for the rest of his life, and even Presley’s mother used to say he had the energy of two people.
5. Love at First Sight
When a 23-year-old Elvis met his future wife Priscilla, she was only a 14-year-old girl. Still, Presley was so smitten that just the sight of her turned him into an “awkward, embarrassed” boy, and it took him all night to work up the courage to ask her out.
6. Donut Do Me Like That
Presley had a notorious and lifelong love of donuts. He even once recorded a jingle for Southern Maid Donut Flour Company for the low, low price of a box of hot glazed pastries.
7. Mommy Dearest
In 1953, Presley paid for his first studio time at Sun Records to record the songs “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.” Though he was likely hoping to get discovered, he also had another incredibly touching motivation. He wanted to record the ballads as a gift to his beloved mother Gladys.
8. Something Smells Fishy
Presley famously disliked fish because the smell of it reminded him of his childhood poverty; he reportedly forbid anyone from eating it in his home.
9. Mama’s Boy
Elvis was so close to his mother Gladys that they shared a secret language of baby talk even well into his adulthood. In their own special world, ice cream was called “iddytream” and milk was called “butch.” He also called Gladys by the pet name “Satnin.”
10. Down and out
Little Elvis grew up absolutely dirt poor. The Presley family often had to rely on the goodwill of their neighbors just to make ends meet, but it wasn’t always enough. In 1938, Elvis’s father Vernon was charged with altering his landlord’s check and sentenced to eight months in jail—but this stint had even more heartbreaking consequences. It forced Elvis and his mother to give up their home.
11. Law of Averages
Most of Elvis’s teachers considered him an “average” student. Ironically, he once got a “C” in music in the eighth grade.
12. Hillbilly Elegy
Presley’s fame is what helped develop the genre we know today as “Rockabilly.” When he was first starting out, very few radio stations wanted to play him. Country music stations thought his music sounded too much like rhythm-and-blues, while those stations thought he sounded like a “hillbilly.” And so, “rockabilly” was born.
13. Star Search
Despite his shy disposition, Elvis had a burning love of music from a young age. When he was in first grade, his teacher was so impressed with his rendition of “Old Shep” during morning prayers that she pushed him to enter a singing contest at a local fair. The 10-year-old dressed up in a cowboy outfit and had to stand on a chair to reach the microphone. He got fifth place.
14. It’s Just Business
Presley is obviously beloved, but there were menacing sides to his success. Sun Records honcho Sam Phillips signed the young crooner on specifically because he was looking for a white man to sing African-American tinged music. As Phillips once said, if he could find a white boy to do it, “I could make a billion dollars.”
15. Flash Forward
Though we know him today as “The King of Rock and Roll,” when he was rising up the charts, Presley actually had several different nicknames, including “The Hillbilly Cat” and “The Memphis Flash.”
16. Aw, You Shouldn’t Have
On Presley’s 11th birthday, his extremely protective mother purchased this future rock and roll star his first guitar instead of what he really wanted: a bike or rifle.
17. It Gets Better
Presley’s school days were absolutely heartbreaking. The other school children considered the quiet Presley “trashy” and a mama’s boy, and they bullied him relentlessly. Paying them no heed, he would bring his guitar to school almost every day, playing and singing his favorite country hillbilly songs through his lunch hour.
18. Better Than the Real Thing
Elvis Presley’s 1953 cover of the song “That’s All Right” has a legendary origin story. The still-green Presley had been in the recording studio for hours, but his label manager was never happy. They were about to call it a night when Presley suddenly launched into the song with reckless abandon, turning the slow lament into a rocking hit. But then it got even better.
Three days later, a local DJ played it on his radio show, and it caused a sensation. People flooded the station phone lines, demanding to know the superstar behind the cover.
19. G.I. Elvis
When we think of Elvis, we tend to think of a dark coif or a white jumpsuit—but what about Army fatigues? That’s right, the government drafted him into the Army for a two-year stint at the height of his fame. Although Presley worried that his patriotic duty would ruin his career, the Army still let him record songs on leave, and he kept making hits.
20. State of Grace
Elvis Presley’s mansion Graceland is one of the most iconic testaments to the singer’s rock and roll lifestyle. The Memphis estate is full of luridly decorated rooms and velvet décor—including the infamous “Jungle Room.” According to his friends, Presley would often spend hours in his Graceland bedroom watching the closed circuit television of his property.
21. Pompadour and Circumstance
The singer began working on his signature look from a young age. Partly in an effort to stand out from the crowd, he started growing long sideburns and styling his pompadour with rose oil and Vaseline. Around this time, he also began to collect the outlandish, flashy clothing that would become his trademark stage wear.
22. Sergeant Speed
Elvis’s stint in the Army gave him discipline and introduced him to his lifelong interest in karate—but it also unearthed some very dark habits. While serving, Presley started using amphetamines for strength, weight loss, and energy. By the end of his service, he was “practically evangelical about their benefits.”
23. Zero to Hero
The turning point in Presley’s young career came when he sang at Lauderdale Courts’ annual show. Since this was the rural south, the crooner knew a lot of people in the crowd, and they were astonished and impressed to find he could sing. As he later said of that show, “I wasn’t popular in school…[but] It was amazing how popular I became after that.”
24. Hot and Heavy
Though he sometimes didn’t know it, Presley’s life was often in grave danger, and people constantly threatened him while he was on stage. During one performance, attackers even claimed they would murder him unless he paid them $50,000. The next time Presley performed, he had a Derringer in his right boot and a hidden pistol at his waist.
25. Whirlwind Romance
In order to date the teenaged Priscilla, Elvis had to lie and deceive constantly. Her protective parents allowed Priscilla to visit him in Los Angeles on the condition that he hire a chaperone and that she write home every day. Instead, Elvis spirited her away to Las Vegas and had her pre-write postcards for his staff to send back—and that wasn’t even the worst part.
It was during this Las Vegas trip that Elvis and his young love took amphetamines together. Soon enough, she was basically living with him in Graceland while she was supposed to be going to school.
Maybe Elvis’s sense of smell is on a completely different level than a mere mortal, because not only did he not want fish to be anywhere near his home, he also once broke up with actress Natalie Wood because he claimed he didn’t like her odor.
27. None for Me, Thanks
When Elvis started out, he was practically a tee-totaller, and didn’t like partaking in any kind of substances. When actress Cassandra Peterson once told him she liked to enjoy a certain green substance, she says he looked at her aghast and tsked, “Don’t ever do that again.” In those times, he didn’t even like drinking alcohol, as several of his family members were alcoholics.
28. Southern Comfort
Elvis was notorious in his later years for a love of high-fat southern cooking like fried chicken and biscuits—but his biggest claim to infamy was “The Elvis Sandwich.” Not light on the calories, this sandwich contains toasted bread, peanut butter, banana, and bacon. Not enough? Sometimes people even add honey into this recipe just in case they’re looking for a trip to the hospital.
29. Do Not Go Gentle
While Elvis was serving in the army, the worst tragedy of his life struck. In August of 1958, his mother Gladys was diagnosed with hepatitis. Presley begged for emergency leave to visit her on August 12, and two days later, his beloved mother was dead from heart failure. The 23-year-old Presley was reportedly so distraught, he tried to throw himself into the grave after her.
30. Sneaking Around
Elvis kept the teenaged Priscilla pretty much confined to his Graceland mansion, all while the playboy was gallivanting around with actresses in Hollywood. He had multiple affairs with co-stars and other Tinseltown celebrities, but every time Priscilla accused him of being unfaithful, he’d just deny, deny, deny to the naive girl.
31. Not So Black and White
Because of Sam Phillips’ desire to capitalize on traditionally black pop music and Presley’s soulful singing, many early listeners assumed that the crooner was African American.
32. Elvis Goes to Hollywood
Not content with his rock god status, Elvis always had dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. From the 50s onward, he starred in productions like Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas, though his film career never really achieved the same acclaim as his music endeavors. One critic called his filmography “a pantheon of bad taste” —but then again, the movies were very profitable for a time.
33. Child’s Play
When Elvis first started performing shows, the teenager still used his child-sized guitar.
34. Not-So Final Resting Place
Fans were so rabid and bereaved at Elvis’s premature death that people tried to steal his corpse more than once after the tragedy, forcing officials to move his body into a private garden at Graceland.
35. Furry Friends
Elvis was quite the animal lover, and he owned a pet turkey named Bow-Tie. He also owned two Great Danes, horses, donkeys, peacocks, hens, ducks, chickens, a chimpanzee, a monkey, and a Basset Hound.
36. Wax on, Wax off
Elvis Presley’s iconic jumpsuit fashion has its roots in his Karate background. Elvis hired Bill Belew to design modifications of karate gis for him. These articles of clothing would later become his stage uniforms.
37. Men in Black
Presley’s scandalous 1953 show in La Crosse, Wisconsin earned him his most terrifying enemy yet. After his performance, the local Catholic diocese sent an emergency message to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover warning that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States” because he could “arouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth.” Ok but…were they wrong?
38. Grunt and Groin
During one of his appearances on The Milton Berle show, the host convinced Elvis to go onstage without his guitar, saying, “Let ‘em see you, son.” Well, they certainly saw him: his performance caused an enormous scandal. Without his guitar weighing him down, Elvis’s hips went even more crazy all over the stage.
The next day, shocked critics scorned his “’grunt and groin’ antics” and even compared him to the “blonde bombshells of the burlesque runway.”
39. Mr. Presley Goes to Washington
In December 1970, Presley had an infamously awkward meeting with sitting president Richard Nixon. Elvis had engineered the meeting at the White House himself, and in it he rambled on and on about how he wanted to teach hippies to live clean lives. Presley even threw his friends the Beatles under the bus, saying they were part of the problem.
40. Elvis the Pelvis
Presley’s on-stage gyrations earned him the sneering nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” He hated the name, saying it was “one of the most childish expressions I ever heard, comin’ from an adult.”
41. Breaking the Mould
Presley desperately tried to find his away amidst the moral outrage of his early career, even once appearing on the Steve Allen Show in a classy white bow tie and black tails as if to say he was sorry. However, he soon regretted the humiliating visual apology. The next time someone told him to tame his act, he petulantly stood stock still and just wagged his finger defiantly.
42. Press(ley) Gang
Though Presley was a hit with the ladies, young men treated him in an incredibly brutal way. Many teen boys despised him, and would actively try to harm him in his shows, forcing the singer to hire a police guard for certain public appearances. As one of his managers said, “It was almost frightening…somebody’d always try to take a crack at him.”
43. Working the Angles
The incredibly influential TV host Ed Sullivan was one of Presley’s main detractors, and once called him “unfit for family viewing.” Even so, Presley was the heat-score of the decade, and Sullivan eventually invited him on his programme—provided cameramen strategically shot Presley’s movements to downplay his swivelling legs.
By his third appearance on the show, Sullivan even insisted they shoot him only from the waist up. It didn’t matter: Elvis’s appearances rocketed him to unprecedented success.
44. The Seven Year Itch
Priscilla Presley claims that she and Elvis didn’t have intercourse until their wedding night.
45. Do Call It a Comeback
By the late 1960s, Elvis’s hokey Hollywood ambitions had turned him into a has-been. Presley had barely been on stage since joining the studio system, and he was deeply unhappy with himself and his career. But he had an ingenious plan. He staged a now-iconic 1968 comeback performance, Elvis, which is legendary as a tear-jerking return to form.
As one critic noted, “There is something magical about watching a man who has lost himself find his way back home.” Elvis himself thought the special was greatest thing he had ever done.
46. One and Done
Elvis and Priscilla got pregnant almost immediately after their wedding—their only daughter Lisa Marie Presley was born nine months to the day after their nuptials, on February 1, 1968.
47. Really, Really Ridiculously Good Looking
Forget his screen sex appeal, Elvis was allegedly drop-dead gorgeous in person. As TV director Steve Binder put it, “I’m straight as an arrow and I got to tell you, you stop, whether you’re male or female, to look at him. He was that good looking.”
48. A Karate Chop to the Heart
For all their strange passion, Elvis and Priscilla were doomed to a heartbreaking end. Elvis simply couldn’t stay faithful, and Priscilla eventually strayed as well, taking up with her karate coach Mike Stone—who, ironically, Elvis had initially introduced her to. On February 23, 1972, the Presleys officially separated from each other.
49. The Memphis Mafia
When he got famous, Elvis started surrounding himself with a shady group of people known as “The Memphis Mafia.” Many of those closest to the star thought they were parasites sucking on his fame. As writer John Harris said, “It was no wonder that as he slid into addiction and torpor, no-one raised the alarm: to them, Elvis was the bank, and it had to remain open.”
50. Jailhouse Rock
Even the most well-respected musicians adored Elvis. Beatles legend John Lennon once confessed, “Nothing really affected me until Elvis,” while Bob Dylan said listening to Elvis was “like busting out of jail.”
51. Romeo Must Die
After finding out that Mike Stone was the “other man” in his marriage, Elvis’s response was utterly disturbing. During one show, four excited fans jumped the stage and tried to mob him, but Presley became convinced it was Stone sending people to kill him. Suddenly, a raging, delusional Elvis kept saying, “There’s too much pain in me…Stone [must] die.”
This went on for days—so long that one of Presley’s bodyguards really did start looking into a contract killing. Luckily, Presley eventually dropped the matter.
52. Close to Home
Even though he was an international star, besides a few concerts he performed in Canada in 1957, Elvis never performed outside of the USA.
53. Hands-on Approach
Presley was quite cheeky in his day, and even became infamous for signing his fans’ breasts. Reports from his early shows also complain that he signed young girls’ abdomens and thighs.
54. The Rise and Fall
The end of Elvis’s marriage to Priscilla was also the end of his glory days. He never recovered from the loss, and after his divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973, the singer started circling the drain, self medicating and subsisting on prescriptions. Though he was on tour, he could barely get through sets and spent hours in his dressing room.
55. Member of the Team
Turns out naming body parts isn’t just for women. Elvis referred to his own member as “Little Elvis.”
56. Take a Bow
By the end of his life, Presley had a whole host of health issues—but even so, his final moments are shrouded in mystery. On August 16, 1977, his then-girlfriend Ginger Alden found him on the Graceland bathroom floor, “his entire body had completely frozen in a seated position.” Doctors pronounced the icon officially dead at 3:30 pm.
57. A Dumfounding Death
Decades after his demise, we still have no clear idea how Elvis died. The official cause of death his cardiac arrest, but a cocktail of drugs in his system probably didn’t help. However, Presley did also have an enlarged heart, a codeine allergy, and several other known health issues and bad eating habits. As one forensic expert put it, “He was difficult to diagnose; it was a judgment call.”
We may never know the exact reasons behind his death.
58. Monkey See, Monkey Do
Today, there are 100,000 active, professional Elvis impersonators.
59. Raw Deal
At one point during his career, a venue offered Presley an insulting $28,000 to perform. His manager Colonel Tom Parker had an unforgettable response. “That’s fine for me,” he said, “now how much can you get for Elvis?”
60. Elvis Has Left the Building
The mysteries behind Elvis’s end have also led to a conspiracy theory that he faked his own death so that he could live out the rest of his life in peace. Believers of this theory point to discrepancies in his death certificate as well as to the reports that there was a wax dummy in the coffin during his burial.
61. Still Got It
Even to this day, Elvis remains the best-selling solo artist in the world.
62. Run and Bride
On May 1st, 1967, Elvis and Priscilla finally married after a seven-year courtship—but the happy day hid a dark secret. Many believe that Elvis only proposed after a desperate Priscilla and her family threatened to take her story to the press and charge him with kidnapping a minor. According to his maid, Presley was so upset about the wedding that she found him sobbing about it one day, telling her “I don’t have a choice.”
63. Bad Gut Feeling
One medical expert has a particularly embarrassing theory behind the legend’s death. According to Dr. Dan Warlick, Elvis’s chronic constipation was what killed him. As he says, the “strain of attempting to defecate compressed the singer’s abdominal aorta, shutting down his heart.” THAT…is not a way to go.
64. Swing Low
At the height of his fame, Presley was infamous for his scandalous hip-swinging and electrifying dancing—but few people know the real story behind these moves. In one of his first big shows, the shy Presley was so nervous as he danced to the music that his legs started shaking in his wide-cut pants. The response was absolute pandemonium.
The women in the crowd started screaming hysterically, and his backing band gave him even more material to work with. Presley quickly incorporated the routine into his regular performances.