10 Strange and Intriguing Facts about Elvis Presley
10. Elvis Designed His Signature Look After a Comic Book Hero
Today, superhero movies make billions of dollars at the box office, but Elvis was a fan of comics long before they became popular in the mainstream. Elvis’s signature stage look, with his trademark hair, was modeled after a comic book hero named Captain Marvel Jr. As a child, Elvis read the comic books, and he even kept the comics into adulthood. They sit in the attic of Graceland to this very day. A recreation of the room in which Elvis grew up has one of the comic books sitting on a desk.
In addition to inspiring Elvis’s one-of-a-kind hair, the comic book character also influenced the design of the short capes Elvis would wear on stage, as well as the King’s sideburns. Elvis even had personalized jewelry made that was shaped like lightning bolts, which was the symbol Captain Marvel Jr. had on the front of his costume. Elvis had the initials “T.C.B.” engraved on the jewelry, which meant “Taking Care of Business” and was meant to refer to Elvis’s band.
In response to Elvis’s public adoration of Captain Marvel Jr., the comic’s publisher paid tribute to Elvis by making Captain Marvel Jr. a big fan of the King. The comic book hero even calls Elvis “the greatest modern-day philosopher.” In a reboot of the fictional world in which Captain Marvel Jr. lives, the character says he wants to be known as “King Shazam” after he receives his costume, which is meant to refer to Elvis. In addition, the adult version of the comic book has Captain Marvel Jr. going under the name King Marvel, and he looks very much like Elvis.
9. Elvis had a Black Belt in Karate
Elvis’s first brush with karate came in the late-1950s when he entered the Army and was stationed in Germany. After he came back to the States and was discharged from the military, he found a karate master in Los Angeles, who taught Elvis over the years up until the King’s death in 1977. Not only would Elvis go on to earn his first-degree black belt in 1960, but he would eventually go on to attain an eighth-degree black belt.
His love for martial arts was so great that the jumpsuits Elvis wore on stage in his later years were actually designed with inspiration from traditional karate uniforms. Elvis even opened a karate training center in Tennessee called the Tennessee Karate Institute. In 1974, Elvis started filming a documentary about karate, but it was never finished. Some of that original footage was released on a DVD in 2009 and was called “Elvis Presley Gladiators and narrated by a nun-chuck expert named Wayne Carman.
In an unfortunate twist of fate, Elvis’s wife, Priscilla, had an affair with a karate instructor named Mike Stone. It was Elvis who introduced the two in the first place. Elvis had affairs of his own during the marriage, and the two eventually divorced in 1972. Close friends of Elvis said he never truly recovered from the divorce and that it haunted him the rest of his days. Another strange result from Elvis’s study of karate came a few years later when four men rushed the stage during a concert. Elvis was able to fight off one of the attackers using karate moves. He told friends he believed Mike Stone was responsible for the attack.
8. Elvis’s Trademark Dance Came from Nerves
A consummate stage performer, Elvis garnered a large amount of criticism from the way he danced on stage with his trademark hip movements. Rumor suggests that he developed the moves after performing in the early 1950s at a show in Memphis. Elvis was so nervous that his legs were shaking and made his natural dance movements seem over-exaggerated. The girls in the audience apparently loved the future King’s dance moves, and he ended up incorporating them into future shows.
Just a few years after his first shows, Elvis was becoming a huge rock ‘n’ roll star, but it wasn’t until his appearance on “The Milton Berle Show” in June 1956 that the first controversy of his career truly hit. He sang “Hound Dog” to an audience full of screaming teenage girls, and the performance was labeled as vulgar by critics across the nation. There was a rising concern from some conservative groups that rock ‘n’ roll could lead to high rates of juvenile delinquency. The Catholic Church went so far as to publish a piece called “Beware Elvis Presley.”
Amusingly, further television appearances by Elvis often featured some creative camera work. At first, famous television personality Ed Sullivan declared that he’d never allow Elvis to appear on his show, but he eventually reversed his decision and booked Elvis for a three-show contract that would pay Elvis $50,000. During the first two performances, Elvis was filmed from a great distance to reduce the impact of his wild gyrations. For the third and final performance, Elvis was only filmed from the waist up. An interesting rumor suggests that Elvis’s manager actually requested the odd camera work in the third show to drum up publicity.
7. Elvis Served in the Army
Elvis served in the United States Army for two years from 1958 to 1960, and he was already an amazingly famous performer by the time he was drafted. With Elvis’s reputation for suggestive dancing on stage, many religious groups saw his entry into the military as a good thing because it would remove him from the public’s notice. However, Presley actually gained a significant amount of respect after he entered the Army because he chose to enroll as a regular soldier instead of using his fame to get into the Special Services and perform for the troops.
A few significant things happened to Elvis when he was in Germany including the death of his mother and his introduction to his future wife, Priscilla. He would begin a life-long love of karate in Germany, and would also gain the respect of his fellow troops who admired his willingness to work and not benefit from any special treatment. Unfortunately, Elvis’s time in the Army would also introduce him to drugs when he started taking stimulants and barbiturates. Those drugs would eventually lead to Elvis’s early death at the age of 42.
When Elvis left for his service, the majority of his fan base was made up of teenagers and people who loved rock ‘n’ roll. By the time he returned, he was able to expand his fan base to include older music fans who appreciated his military service and also liked the soft rock songs he released whenever he wasn’t making rock ‘n’ roll records. Today, the German National Museum of Contemporary History has a display of items owned by Elvis, like his uniform, as well as posters and other military paraphernalia from the era.
6. Elvis Never Performed Outside North America
Elvis gave hundreds of concerts over his decades of fame, but even though he sold millions of records overseas, he never performed outside North America. Virtually all of his concerts were inside the United States with just a few concerts given in Canada in the late 1950s. The reason for Elvis’s lack of international tour dates stemmed from the control that Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had over his schedule. Born in Holland as “Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk,” the Colonel was terrified that he’d be unable to return to the United States if he left with Elvis due to illegal residency in America.
Elvis and Parker began to work together in 1955 when Elvis’s career was just starting to take off, and he immediately got to work building Elvis’s career. Although the Colonel came under heavy criticism for taking a whopping fifty percent of Elvis’s earnings at one point, Elvis said that he would never have become a rock legend without the help of his manager. In fact, Elvis’s wife Priscilla once said that Elvis hated money and anything to do with finances and would sign contracts without even reading them.
Rumors swirled in 1974 when there were efforts to have Elvis go on tour in Australia. The Colonel was strangely reluctant to have anything to do with a concert on foreign soil. Eventually, he said that the security at the venue in Australia wasn’t sufficient for someone as famous as Elvis and plans for an international tour were scrapped. It wasn’t until the 1980s when Colonel Tom Parker’s true history was revealed that it became obvious why Elvis never performed overseas.