Elvis Presley may have died 44 years ago this month, but you would never know it by looking at the data. According to the streaming service Spotify, he averages roughly 13 million listeners every month, thanks to the enduring popularity of such songs as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and countless others.
Graceland, his Memphis estate, greets approximately 600,000 tourists every year, making it the second-most-visited formerly private home in the United States. The first most-visited is the White House. Indeed, the saying that “the King is gone but not forgotten” is a major understatement.
Despite Presley’s continued dominance over American popular culture, there are still a lot of facts about his life and career that many people don’t know. Read ahead and find out 30 facts that you may not know about the king of rock ‘n’ roll, even if he’s your hunka hunka burning love.
1. He didn’t write his own songs
While Elvis Presley sang some of the best-known songs in pop history, he wrote exactly none of them. His first single, “That’s All Right,” was written and performed by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and Presley performed songs written by other artists for his entire career.
2. He had a stillborn twin
Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, approximately half an hour after his twin brother Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. Jesse was buried the next day in an unmarked grave.
3. His father did jail time
Elvis grew up dirt poor, supported by a father who mainly worked odd jobs. In 1938, his father ,Vernon, spent the better part of a year in prison for forging a check for four dollars, but who knows? Maybe it inspired his son to perform “Jailhouse Rock.”
4. He did well in school, but not in one surprising class
5. He worked some ‘real’ jobs
Coming from a working-class family, it was natural for Elvis to go out and get a job after finishing school. His first jobs included working at a machinist shop and driving a truck, but in 1954, before he had finished his first year in the workforce, he recorded “That’s All Right,” bringing his blue-collar career aspirations to an end.
6. He was a homeowner at 22
In 1957, Elvis bought his mansion, Graceland, for approximately $100,000. He was the ripe old age of 22.
7. Junichiro Koizumi went there!
If you haven’t heard of Junichiro Koizumi, that’s OK – he was Prime Minister of Japan in 2006 and a huge Elvis fan. He visited Graceland that year with former President George W. Bush, who was himself the first sitting President of the United States to visit the mansion.
8. Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was actually a Dutch carnival barker
Elvis’ manager was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in Holland. He changed his name to Tom Parker and worked as a carnival barker and later as a dog catcher before starting a career managing country musicians.
9. Elvis was s sergeant in the army
Elvis was drafted into the army in 1957. Rather than demand V.I.P. treatment, he conducted himself as a model soldier and achieved the rank of sergeant before being honorably discharged to return to his career.
IMAGE elvis-sworn-in | Wikicommons, Public Domain, Associated Press/Standard-Sentinel March 25, 1958, page 1
10. Elvis became more popular after serving in the military
While some might have worried that putting Elvis’ career on hold while he served would do it harm, the opposite was true. The soundtrack to the first movie he made after his discharge, “G.I. Blues,” topped the Billboard chart for 10 weeks and it stayed on the chart for 111 weeks, the longest of any album in his career.
IMAGE elvis-army-framed | Wikicommons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0, Nic shad
11. He never performed anywhere but North America
No one would debate the fact that even in death, Elvis is a global superstar. What’s more incredible is that he achieved that status without ever performing anywhere except in the United States, and a few dates in Canada.
12. He was burned in effigy
Elvis appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956 to a television audience of 60 million people, but while the performance inspired a lot of audience members to pick up guitars and practice their dance moves, not everyone who saw it was happy. Mobs in Nashville and St. Louis took to the streets in a state of outrage over his swiveling hips and burned him in effigy.
13. He bought FDR’s yacht
In 1964, Elvis bought a yacht called the Potomac, which had previously belonged to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He donated it to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, who sold it to raise money.
14. He helped get a Pearl Harbor memorial finished
Elvis performed a benefit concert in 1961 that generated more than $50,000 for the completion of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Hawaii, a tribute to the more than 1,000 people who died in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Construction of the memorial had paused when it ran out of money, but the benefit concert generated enough money to finish it, and it was dedicated a year later.
15. Elvis made his first recording for four dollars
Elvis’ first commercially-released single may have been “That’s All Right,” but it wasn’t his first time in a recording studio. That happened in 1953, when he paid a grand total of four dollars to record a song for his mother as a birthday present The song has never been released publicly.
16. Alice Cooper was tempted to kill him
Elvis was a seventh-degree black belt in karate, and he was eager to show off his skills in a 1971 hotel room encounter with shock rocker Alice Cooper. Cooper said that Presley handed him a loaded gun, which he knocked out of Cooper’s hand with a kick. But Cooper said that in the split second that he held the gun, he was briefly tempted to achieve greater stardom by becoming “the guy who killed Elvis.”
IMAGE elvis-alice-cooper | Wikicommons, Public Domain, Associated Booking Corporation
17. He was actually blonde
While every single iconic photo of Elvis Presley depicts him with jet black hair, he was actually fair-haired until his teens. When he got famous, he could afford all the black hair dye he wanted, but up until then, he achieved his signature look with heaping helpings of shoe polish.
18. He’s the second most highly-paid dead celebrity in the world
Forbes magazine did the math and determined that in the period from October 2018 to October 2019, Elvis earned $39 million, despite being dead for over 40 years. He would have held the number one spot if not for Michael Jackson, who earned a staggering $60 million during the same period.
19. He’s credited with co-writing songs he didn’t co-write
Elvis never wrote any of his own songs, but he still appears as co-writer on some of them, since his record label demanded that certain songwriters give up partial credit in exchange for having Elvis record their songs. This was reportedly the case with “All Shook Up,” which Presley said in an interview was the closest he ever came to writing a song, since he came up with the title.
20. The movie with the most Elvis songs is not an Elvis movie
Elvis starred in more than 30 movies, but the one that contains the highest number of his songs is the 2002 Disney movie “Lilo & Stitch.” That movie contains five original Elvis songs and two Elvis songs performed by other artists.
21. The Elvis song catalog is really blue
Elvis recorded over 600 songs in his career, and 15 of those songs have the same word in the title – blue. They include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
22. He was always a mama’s boy at heart
Elvis’ mother Gladys died of a heart attack in 1958 while he was serving in the army. According to those who knew him and also according to numerous books on the subject, her passing had a devastating effect on him, and he was never the same again afterwards.
23. Graceland is very good to the city of Memphis
Graceland is owned today by Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, and its status as a tourist attraction has been very good for the city in which it resides. The city of Memphis has been estimated to receive approximately $150 million annually from tourist pilgrimages to the mansion.
24. Those jumpsuits were really heavy
In the 1970s Elvis began wearing jumpsuits for his live performances, and the jumpsuits were really heavy. They became more so as they were gradually more embroidered and bejeweled. One such jumpsuit weighed in at a hefty 75 pounds.
25. He was pro-vaccination
Vaccine hesitancy isn’t new – when Jonas Salk’s miracle cure for polio was rolled out, people lined up to get it, but teenagers were slow to get the jab. Elvis quite happily rolled up his sleeve and let doctors inject him with the vaccine, and the photograph of the event made teenagers decide to get the shot themselves. Too bad he’s not here today.
26. He liked playing with guns
Elvis liked guns. He really, really, really liked guns. According to a former girlfriend of his, Ginger Alden, he fired a gun at a TV set – hey, we hate commercials too – and also shot a headboard above her while she slept, to “grab her attention.” It worked!
Read more about his antics with guns at the Elvis History Blog.
27. He made one commercial, and it never aired
Elvis filmed a commercial for Southern Maid Donuts in 1954 that consisted of him singing the product’s jingle. The fact that he was paid for this service with a box of donuts is perhaps a sign that he was not yet a household name. The fact that the commercial was never released is probably a sign of the same thing.
28. He performed in Las Vegas over 800 times
Elvis had performed once in Las Vegas in 1956 and didn’t return until 1969. After that, he performed 837 consecutive shows, until December 1976.
29. His first Vegas show was a bust
Despite racking up hundreds of sold-out shows in Las Vegas in the 1970s, his success in that city was far from guaranteed. He had played there in 1956, when it was still very much the domain of the Rat Pack, and a Las Vegas Sun critic wrote of his performance, “He shakes and shivers like he is suffering from itchy underwear and hot shoes.”
30. Some people think he still walks the earth
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, but that hasn’t stopped legions of fans from entertaining fantasies that he’s still alive. Some of them have even gone ahead and created their own digitally-enhanced versions of what he might look like if he were alive today, perhaps fresh off of hanging out with Tupac Shakur and Harambe the gorilla.