The Tragic Life Story of the King of Rock & Roll


| LAST UPDATE 07/05/2022

By Elizabeth Russo

Recognized as the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley became a cultural icon who transformed fame and the music industry during his reign. However, his life behind closed doors once looked very different.

Humble Beginnings

"The King," AKA Elvis Presley, wasn't born into royalty. Born in Mississippi, the Southern boy earned his reign as the Rock and Roll King. Today, he still remains one of the most celebrated names in music.

Elvis Presley Childhood BioElvis Presley Childhood Bio
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Growing up in Mississippi, Presley grew up in a small family and didn't have the greatest of all childhoods. The singer would later break boundaries and set records no one sought out to do or thought were possible during his time. But it wasn't always smooth sailing...

A Tragic Loss

Elvis actually had a twin brother, but unfortunately, Jesse Garon Presley died at birth. His mother, Gladys, faced a difficult birth in 1935 in their two-room family home in Tupelo, Mississippi, which led to the stillbirth of his twin. She was rushed to the hospital and could not have any more children.

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The family never held a funeral for Jesse and instead buried the remains in a shoebox at an unknown gravesite. Understandably, Elvis was extremely traumatized by the event, which often haunted him throughout his career. He even attempted to search for the grave but never found it.

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Just an Average Joe (or Elvis)

Believe it or not, Presley grew up an average joe. Although one could never tell by his extreme confidence, later on, he was known as a "loner" in school and even made fun of for playing "hillbilly music" by his peers. His music teacher even deemed his voice "merely average."

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 Alan Band/Keystone Features via Getty Images

Children would often make fun of him for bringing his guitar to school and call him "trashy" according to the music he would play. Legend has it, his classmates once cut his guitar strings and felt so bad about the event after that they gathered money to replace them. If only they knew what he would one day become…

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First Steps in Music

Elvis didn't grow up with a passion for music - and it wasn't until he was 11 years old that he got his first guitar. The young boy actually wanted a rifle instead of a guitar, but for obvious reasons, that was a no-go. Eventually, he was finally ready to join the music world. But the music world wasn't quite prepared for him...

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Presley had auditioned for a gospel quartet named ‘Songfellows’ and was turned down, but that year he would come to be known in the Memphis music scene. The determined singer set out to record the song My Happiness as a gift for his mother, Gladys, in 1953 for a whopping $4.

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Drafting Into the Army

The artist was finally starting to make moves in the music industry and signed a deal with Sun Records earning top songs, such as Love Me Tender and Heartbreak Hotel. However, it being the 50s, the celebrated singer paused his music career and was drafted into the army in 1958.

Elvis Presley Army DraftElvis Presley Army Draft
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Elvis served for two years and spent four years in reserves. The artist was offered the opportunity to serve in the Special Services unit to entertain and live in priority housing. Still, he refused the army, saying, "the army can do anything it wants with me," and just wanted to be a regular soldier.

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Losing Gladys

It was no secret the most important woman in Elvis' life was his mother, Gladys Presley. They were so extremely close, seeing as he was her only biological son. Sadly, right before he was drafted to Germany, his mother fell very ill and passed away, leaving him devastated.

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Seeing as though Elvis was in the military, he could not be there - but he made quick plans to come home and see her. Elvis was known for being a restless sleeper and had difficulties sleeping independently, all due to the hardships he faced losing his mother.

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Enter Priscilla

After drafting into the army, Elvis was stationed in Germany. There, he met the infamous Priscilla Beaulieu, who he would eventually marry despite the large age gap they shared. However, it wasn't always easy for the young lady to be married to one of the biggest names in rock and roll.

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Priscilla faced challenges living alongside The King of Rock and Roll -between their twelve-year age gap and Elvis' sudden rise to fame. She later said, "I was kind of lost really in who I was earlier in my life, I really didn't have teenage years. I learned so much about him and was with him so much that I thought the way he did."

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Before He Settled Down

Known for being quite the ladies' man, Presley's romantic interest extended past Priscilla, the daughter of a U.S. Navy pilot. The singer had a brief romance with Elisabeth Stefaniak, a 19-year-old German girl, but it ended after he returned to the states.

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Regardless of his fling abroad, there was only one lucky lady for him. Despite their vast age difference, he and Priscilla Beaulieu married in Las Vegas in 1967. The two would soon be known as the couple in the music industry and would later set the mark for many rock and roll couples to come.

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Behind the Marriage

However, the two faced many hardships. Priscilla later reflected in an interview, admitting that Elvis never looked at her without makeup on. "He never wanted to see me getting dressed; he wanted to see the end result. Men don't want to see what a woman has to go through to get where she is, they want to see the product, the result."

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While the two were clearly in love with each other, some report the decision to get married wasn't entirely up to them. Considering Elvis was a star by this point, his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reportedly decided the two should get married as it was the best look for the star.

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The Secret to His Famous Look

Elvis had made his name known in the music biz once he and Priscilla were married. The artist cultivated his signature look, which is still remembered by so many today. The black slicked-back hair, dark eyelashes, and conservative yet trendsetting clothing became his signature and memorable look.

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However, Presley was not born with those black slicked black locks on his head. He dyed his eyelashes black and used shoe polish to dye his hair black before using hair dyes to achieve an edgier look. Elvis was particular with his haircut and only trusted his mother's barber, Mr. Gill, to touch his hair!

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He Didn't Write His Songs

Despite being the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis never wrote any of his own songs. That may come as a shock considering how many hits he came out with while he was on top of the music scene. But shockingly enough, Presley never penned any of his own tracks - though he always managed to make them his own.

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People just assumed these hot singles were originals. But as it turned out, his ability to transform songs to make them his own was unmatched. One of Elvis' most famous - Hound Dog - was first written as a blues song by Big Mama Thornton and was only later turned into a Rock song!

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His Troubles With the Law

Besides his distinguishably iconic voice, the King of Rock and Roll was known for his "out there" dance moves. During the 50s, television was considered clean and untouched by any inappropriate language, actions, dance, and song - which was difficult for Elvis to follow.

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Elvis soon became the anti-poster boy for television with his risque dance moves, described as "offensive" by some. In 1956, Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding attended an Elvis concert and was so horrified by the dance moves that he threatened to have the singer arrested if he didn't keep things more low-key.

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Troubles in Paradise

Despite all his success, Elvis and Priscilla went on to face many troubles. But perhaps this came as no surprise, seeing as they married at such a young age. Sure enough, the couple split up in 1972, just five years after they said: "I do." But what exactly went wrong?

Priscilla Elvis Presley ChildPriscilla Elvis Presley Child
 Keystone via Getty Images

According to Priscilla Presley, things started to take a toll on their relationship after they had a child together. One would think that would bring the couple closer together, but as it turned out, it just furthered them apart until they split up. Priscilla later confessed that she had a secret fling while Elvis had an affair.

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His Secret Phobia

Having a baby wasn't the only aspect that led to the split of Priscilla and Elvis' marriage. Apparently, Elvis was a major germaphobe, which for a rockstar feels unexpected. According to Priscilla, the star was horrified of germs, so we can imagine a newborn baby would be difficult to manage for him.

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Priscilla Presley told the Daily Mail in 2015 that her late husband would "drink where the handle was, knowing that no one would ever drink at that side." Apparently, his phobia interfered with his life so much, to the point that he wouldn't go to other people's homes for meals and when he did, he took his own silverware.

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An Exotic Pet Owner

Ironically enough, Elvis had an unusual pet at home, despite being a major germaphobe. There is something about celebs owning obscure pets, and maybe Elvis was the originator of this ongoing and bizarre trend. The King of Rock and Roll owned his very own chimpanzee. Yep.

Elvis Presley Pet ChimpanzeeElvis Presley Pet Chimpanzee
 NBC Television via Getty Images

Presley's chimpanzee, Scatter, became a staple in the Graceland mansion. The name fit the animal perfectly as Scatter was often seen running wildly around his owner's parties in Hawaiian shirts. Allegedly, he even learned a few racy party tricks along the way.

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‘Fools Gold’ Addiction

It seemed like Elvis had a lot of obsessions. From Chimpanzees to his love for firearms, the King was also known for obsessing over his favorite foods. The star was known for his love of fried foods, which was probably not the healthiest way to live.

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 Hulton Archive via Getty Images

One of the star's favorite foods was the 'Fool's Gold' sandwich. The special sandwich was an entire hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with peanut butter, bacon, and banana. The sandwich originated in Colorado at the Colorado Mine Company restaurant and later became known as 'The Elvis Sandwich.'

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Behind Graceland

Graceland mansion has become one of the most widely renowned sights in history, but what are its origins? The musician initially bought the mansion for his parents when he was 22, but he lived on the 13.8-acre estate in Memphis, Tennessee, after his mother's death.

Elvis Presley Graceland PicturesElvis Presley Graceland Pictures
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Presley famously purchased the "farm-style" mansion with a budget of $100,000 but ended up spending $102,500 on the famously known landmark. Graceland opened up to the public in 1982 for visitors and has become the second most visited home in the USA.

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Turning Down Major Film Roles

The musician reached his career peak in the late 50s when he dominated the charts with his rock and roll hits. He was eventually asked to star in major films such as the musical West Side Story, and A Star is Born, alongside none other than Barbra Streisand.

Elvis Presley Movie RolesElvis Presley Movie Roles
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However, he didn't end up starring in either film. Elvis' manager, Colonel Parker, worried West Side Story wouldn't be the right role for him, and Richard Beymer soon became 'Tony.' In the 70s' Presely was handpicked by Streisand herself to play alongside her in A Star Is Born, but he didn't accept the role for unknown reasons.

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A Triple Threat

Despite turning down two major roles in West Side Story and A Star Is Born, the celebrity was not just a successful musician; he also dominated the movie industry. The artist proved he was more than just a pretty face with an unreal voice; he was also a promising young actor.

Elvis Presley Movie RolesElvis Presley Movie Roles
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The triple threat appeared in over 30 films. His roles in Tickle Me, Easy Come, Easy Go, and Kissin' Cousins were beloved by his fans everywhere (especially the women). Although Elvis never got a chance to perform in a major role in the film industry, he was considered a talented actor.

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A Ladies' Man

With all these talents (and great hair), the ladies famously adored him. Elvis Presley was the ladies' man - and no one could deny otherwise. Elvis had a few flings throughout his lifetime, but hey, he just couldn't stop falling in love. He was even linked to a famous fellow musician...

Elvis Presley Relationship CherElvis Presley Relationship Cher
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With all the attention he received from women, he dated the one and only legendary singer, Cher. Between her marriages with Sonny Bono and Gregg Allman, the two dated. However, according to the stars, their relationship was nothing more than a fling.

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Going Undercover

Being the actor he was, Elvis decided one of his favorite roles to play was an undercover cop. The star knew that he could get away with a lot being as famous as he was during such a pivotal time that he would often place a siren on his car, pull over drivers, and impersonate a cop.

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The singer invited his friends to join in on the fun as they lectured speedy drivers on the road and then eventually unveiled his persona, gave fans an autograph, and moved on. As illegal as this was, Elvis earned honorary police status in different states and even met with President Nixon.

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Going to the White House

Elvis had an intense obsession with all things law enforcement, something not typically expected for a rockstar. The cop impersonator collected police badges from all over the country and eventually met President Nixon, who gifted him a Narcotic Officer's badge.

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Presley wrote to the White House requesting the specific badge, which led to his meeting with the president. During their meeting, the star reportedly told Nixon he believed the Beatles were encouraging an anti-American sentiment, and he could be the one to help change that. Interesting meeting…

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Troubles on Tour

Elvis held a tight tour schedule when he was on top and would spend a lot of his time on the road traveling across the nation for performances. The King performed so often that he eventually became "sloppy" on stage, resulting in his in-studio performances to decline.

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Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

People claimed they could tell the difference in his new recordings compared to his original songs, despite his songs continuing to hit top numbers. However, rumors said that his nerves on the stage, especially at the beginning of his career, translated into his shakey dance moves, which soon became his signature moves.

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The Real Reason He Never Left the U.S.

Despite his high-hitting numbers and massive audience, the King of Rock never performed outside of North America - besides for that one time in Canada in 1957. The singer had as much of a foreign fan base as he did in the U.S.A., so why did he never perform overseas?

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 Steve Morley/Redferns via Getty Images

Many people thought he never performed outside of the U.S. due to his manager, Colonel Parker, who was said to have been an illegal Dutch immigrant. Apparently, Parker arrived in America via ship, never had an American passport, and believed he would not have been allowed back into the U.S. if he had left.

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When Pressures Became Too Much

Despite all his fame, the artist faced overwhelming pressure to stay young. All the pressure resulted in Elvis's battle with pharmaceutical drugs and weight issues to attempt to stay young and beautiful. He allegedly participated in a two-week sedation period to lose weight, where he reached new extremes.

Elvis Presley Fame StrugglesElvis Presley Fame Struggles
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According to his stepbrother David Stanley, the rock legend eventually reached a point where he could barely eat, would fall asleep mid-meal, and needed help to consume food, but he craved fame and did what he thought was right at the time. But that's not the only place Elvis struggled...

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A Promising Comeback

Despite being one of the most successful and famous stars in the rock and roll scene, Elvis's career started to take a backseat to all the new artists who began during his time. Bands such as Queen, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles all joined the music scene, and he worried for his career.

Elvis Presley Career TimelineElvis Presley Career Timeline
 Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Elvis hadn't been at the top in almost a decade, stopped touring and acting, and became less and less relevant after these new rock bands joined the music industry. Still, Elvis made a comeback for a brief moment with a new album, and NBC aired his '68 Comeback Special performance after seven years off-screen.

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"Thoroughly Unlistenable"

Even with the inconsistencies in his work, Elvis was still releasing music. In 1974, he had a contract to abide by and released the album Having Fun With Elvis On Stage, which was ripped apart by critics for only containing spoken content. The album didn't have a singular song, but only Elvis' banter during his live shows.

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 Grant Goddard/Redferns via Getty Images

"Some have called Having Fun With Elvis On Stage thoroughly unlistenable, but actually it's worse than that; hearing it is like witnessing an auto wreck that somehow plowed into a carnival freak show, leaving onlookers at once too horrified and too baffled to turn away," Mark Deming of AllMusic recalled.

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Elvis: What Happened?

Despite his Comeback Special in '68, the King of Rock faced many challenges following and eventually was not looked at the same. In August of 1977, a book was released by one of his former bodyguards, which exposed secrets and personal details about his life.

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The musician attempted to pay off the publishers before Elvis: What Happened? reached the stands, but he was unable to. The tell-all memoir about Elvis exposed intimate details about the singer's rise to fame, his downfall, and his destructive substance abuse issues.

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A Mysterious Departure

Following the release of Elvis: What Happened? the singer passed away just a few days later due to a heart attack. The singer was found at the Graceland estate at only 42 years old by his then 21-year-old girlfriend, Ginger Alden. However, the debate about what really went down still carries on.

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Two days after his death, Presley was buried beside his mother Gladys in Memphis. But unfortunately, he was not immediately put to rest. Three men attempted to steal the 900-pound coffin with his body inside and were immediately caught and arrested. They were then both moved to Graceland.

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The Legacy Lives On...

Almost 45 years later, Elvis Presley is still recognized as the King of Rock and Roll. The cultural icon pioneered rock and roll for all artists following him. With his loving memory, people worldwide visit Graceland to pay their respects to the beloved artist.

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 Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images

Hollywood has incorporated some of his best hits into films - but this summer, the first biopic about the singer's life will hit the big screen, with Austin Butler playing Elvis himself. Elvis is expected to premiere in June 2022, and fans worldwide cannot wait to see a closer look at the man behind the madness...

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