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.
5. Elvis had a federal badge from President Richard Nixon
Elvis died because of a drug overdose, and the doctor who performed his autopsy found multiple types of drugs in his system. Therefore, it seems ironic that Elvis would request a meeting with President Richard Nixon and ask for an official badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. When he made the request, Elvis already had quite a collection of police badges and weapons, but he felt that a federal badge would give him the ultimate power to carry any drugs he wished.
In fact, when Priscilla Presley wrote her memoir, she mentioned that Elvis didn’t want the badge so that he could fight drug use. He wanted it because he thought it would give him a license to carry drugs and weapons without having to face any legal consequences. To get his badge, Elvis took a midnight flight to Washington and wrote a handwritten letter to President Nixon, asking the commander in chief for a federal badge. Elvis and his traveling partner drove by the White House in the early hours of the morning and gave a note to one of the guards at the entrance gate.
Initially, Elvis was just slated to meet with one of the president’s advisors, but he was actually let into the Oval Office where he met Richard Nixon. According to those who remember the conversation between “Tricky Dick” and the King, Elvis said he thought the Beatles were a bad influence because they were anti-American and accepting of drug use. Nixon agreed with Elvis’s opinions about drugs and granted the King’s request when he asked for an official federal badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
4. A Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich was Elvis’s Favorite Food
A busy touring schedule kept Elvis in good shape in his younger years, but his weight ballooned as he marched through his 30s and the touring schedule actually started taking a toll on his health. Elvis was famous for his eclectic eating habits, and his upbringing in the Deep South was responsible for his favorite food: a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Peanut butter and bananas are usually a healthy part of a balanced diet, but not when they’re squashed between white bread and an entire stick of melted butter. Drugs like amphetamines and painkillers contributed to the King’s early death, but his butter-filled diet also strained his health.
Sometimes, Elvis would add bacon to his famous sandwich, and his name became so synonymous with the fatty entrée that it was soon called “the Elvis” in his honor. Variations of the sandwich also included honey, but a whole stick of butter was Elvis’s most common request. Elvis’s addiction to drugs and food was blamed for his apparent loss of interest in recording new songs in the mid-1970s.
According to one story about Elvis Presley’s food cravings, he wanted something called a Fool’s Gold Loaf so bad that he gathered his entourage for a flight on his private plane for a last-minute flight to Denver. The Fool’s Gold Loaf cost almost $50 in 1976, and Elvis spent nearly $20,000 on the travel and his midnight craving. Served on the menu at the Colorado Mine Company, the Fool’s Gold Loaf was estimated to contain an incredible 8,000 calories and was a concoction of Italian bread, margarine, jelly, peanut butter, and an entire pound of bacon.
3. Elvis had Blond Hair
Dying one’s hair is an activity that millions of people do, but it’s always interesting when a famous person is known for a hair color that isn’t natural. A few famous people with similarly famous locks include Lucille Ball, who had naturally brown hair but dyed it red and Winona Ryder, whose natural hair color is blonde and has been dying it black since the 1980s. Elvis Presley’s famous pompadour was also the result of a dye job as the King actually had dark blond hair.
Elvis cultivated a very specific style and appearance, and his legendary hair style was definitely one of the most memorable facets of his persona. Although his hair darkened to a brownish color as he grew to adulthood, Elvis’s hair was a light shade of blond during his childhood. In addition to the famously black locks Elvis sported, another famous part of his hairstyle was its height. The high pompadour style worn by many actors in the 1950s was actually based on the invention of an 18th century mistress of France’s King Louis XV. Although the style originated with women’s fashion, it wasn’t long before it became popular with both sexes.
Because of Elvis’s controversial style and persona in the 1950s, fans who chose to copy the King’s haircut and wear a pompadour were seen as rebellious. Coming out of World War II, most young men would wear the crew cut or flattop that mimicked the styles commonly worn in the military. However, experimenting with clothing and hair was one of the first ways that baby boomers started trying to distinguish themselves from the older generation. Getting a haircut like Elvis was definitely one way to stand out in 1950s America.
2. Elvis Didn’t Write His Own Music
A badge of honor for many famous musicians is the credit they receive for writing their own songs, but one of the most famous performers of all didn’t write the iconic songs known the world over. Elvis had a few credits on songs he supposedly co-wrote, but virtually all of his songs were written by other people. Some estimates put Elvis Presley at the top for certifications given for gold, platinum, and multiplatinum albums even though some late 20th century challengers like Madonna and Michael Jackson challenged his supremacy for various sales records.
Elvis was certainly a talented performer, and it’s likely that no other singer could have brought songs like “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock” to life. However, some of his most famous songs were created by songwriters like Mile Stoller and Jerry Leiber. According to those songwriters, Elvis was passionate about music and was quite well-versed in the medium, but he wasn’t a songwriter. Elvis was said to have an encyclopedia’s knowledge of music, which may have helped him bring rock into the mainstream. Elvis was particularly knowledgeable about the blues, which greatly influenced the progression of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.
The reason Elvis was credited as a co-writer on some of his songs is because it was common at the time for singers to be given a partial credit to retain some rights to royalties in the years after the song’s release. Elvis’s wife Priscilla was even credited as a co-writer on some songs, but the credit was just a way for Elvis’s manager to squeeze some extra money out of royalties. Even though Elvis didn’t write his music, his singing talent and ability to interpret the music allowed him to earn the industry’s respect.
1. Elvis had a Twin Brother
When Elvis’s mother gave birth to him, he wasn’t the only son born that morning on January 8, 1935. Elvis had a twin who was stillborn and born first. Elvis came along about a half-an-hour after his brother. Elvis’s mother gave birth at home, but she was so sick from the event that she had to be taken to a local hospital. The stillborn twin was given a name: Jesse Garon Presley and Elvis’s parents decided to give Elvis the middle name of Aron as a way to remember the twin who didn’t make it. Later in life, Elvis changed his middle name to Aaron, and that’s the way his middle name was spelled on his tombstone.
Elvis regularly spoke about his twin as he grew up and of being an only child in a poor household. His mother was never able to have more children because of the difficult birth. Conditions in Elvis’s household growing up were quite desperate with his father being sent to prison because of a forged $4 check. When Elvis graduated from high school in the early 1950s, he was the first person in his family to earn that honor. Before launching his music career, Elvis was known as a quiet person who had a job in a machinist’s shop.
Elvis carried the memory of his brother with him his entire life, and the memory turned him into a very spiritual person. He was often said to read books about spirituality, and he even wore the necklaces of multiple religions around his neck: a Star of David and a Christian cross. Stories told about Elvis’s childhood suggest he used to have conversations with his dead brother at night.
As one of the most indelible parts of America’s rock ‘n’ roll history, Elvis Aaron Presley certainly earned the title as the “King” with his hundreds of famous songs. It’s hard to believe that he was only 42 when he died in 1977 and yet he’d already given the world so many iconic songs to enjoy. The flamboyant lifestyle Elvis led is often focused upon by the media, but his life was so much more than white, sequined costumes, dark sideburns, and flowing capes.
Investigations conducted after the King’s death concluded that Elvis had been prescribed thousands of prescriptions over the years for painkillers and had spent years dependent upon the drugs that were handed out like candy to stars of his caliber. With such an amazing talent for music, Elvis’s death was nothing short of a tragedy. It’s fortunate that humanity will always have his songs to remember him.