Elvis Presley, one of the most recognizable musicians of all time, undoubtedly earned his nickname as the “King of Rock 'n' Roll." He's the man who revolutionized American pop music by melding country, gospel, and R&B styles. He was also a major movie star and a beloved sex symbol whose onstage moves, highlighted by those showstopping hip gyrations (hence his other nickname, "Elvis the Pelvis"), inspired generations of performers and flustered his critics.
Decades after his death in 1977 at the age of 42, Elvis Presley continues to sell albums around the globe and remains an indelible influence on the entertainment industry. Read on to learn more about Presley's life and career.
1. Elvis Presley is closely associated with Tennessee, but he was born in Mississippi.
Though he’ll forever be associated with Memphis, Tennessee, home to his Graceland mansion, Elvis Presley was actually born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. It was there that Presley began to sing and play guitar, sometimes even bringing the instrument to school to play gospel music for his classmates. It wasn't until 1948, when the future King was 13 years old, that the Presley family moved to Memphis.
2. Music critics were fairly cruel to Elvis Presley in the early days of his career.
Though Presley is one of music's most respected icons now, early on in his career, many critics mocked everything from his voice to his explicit dancing. "He cannot sing and his whole performance is crude and disgusting," columnist Dorothy Ricker wrote in the Tampa Bay Times in 1956, before predicting that "in a comparatively short time he will be forgotten." (Oops!)
In an October 1957 column, Paul Coates of the Los Angeles Mirror went so far as to write that he'd like to "smack that sneer off [Elvis's] face and send him out for a haircut."
3. The cover of Elvis Presley's debut record influenced another classic rock album.
Elvis’s self-titled debut album, which was released in 1956, included classic hits like "Blue Suede Shoes" and his rendition of Little Richard’s "Tutti Frutti." Its cover imposed Presley’s name in simple green and pink font on a candid photo of him singing, eyes closed and mouth agape, while strumming a guitar. Another classic album cover paid tribute to this debut decades later: The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling depicts bassist Paul Simonon smashing his own instrument alongside similar text.
4. Elvis Presley's identical twin brother died at birth.
Elvis had an identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who was stillborn. He was buried in a cemetery near the Presleys’ Mississippi home soon after they were delivered.
5. A TV appearance earned Elvis Presley the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis."
Presley’s stage persona drew as much attention as his music, especially after he suggestively gyrated his hips while singing “Hound Dog” on the June 5, 1956 edition of NBC’s The Milton Berle Show. The performance earned the 21-year-old the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis," along with the ire of multiple religious leaders and critics in the media. At the same time, it also gained him the admiration of even more young fans.
6. Elvis Presley bought Graceland when he was 22 years old.
Elvis’s Memphis mansion, known as Graceland, is now a museum devoted to "The King," who died there in 1977. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to see Presley memorabilia and walk through the mansion’s famously campy, tiki-influenced Jungle Room, where Elvis held some of his final recording sessions. Elvis was just 22 when he bought the estate in 1957 for just over $100,000. The mansion itself was named after Grace Toof, one of the original owners.
7. Elvis Presley got special permission to postpone his Army service to film King Creole.
Elvis received his Army draft notice in December 1957, much to the dismay of the legions of fans who wrote to the military urging that their hero be excused from service. He was granted an eight-week deferment to finish filming the movie King Creole before starting basic training in March 1958. Presley, who was clear that he didn't want any special treatment, spent two years in the Army, including 18 months in Germany, where he was promoted to sergeant. His service even inspired the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie, about a teen idol named Conrad Birdie being drafted into the Army.
8. Elvis Presley's love of fatty foods was prodigious, especially if bacon was involved.
Elvis is famously associated with a sandwich made with peanut butter, bacon, and banana, then pan-fried in butter like an even fattier grilled cheese. It wasn’t his only extreme dietary indulgence, though: "The King" also enjoyed deep-fried pickles and is said to have once flown from Memphis to Denver just for a massive Fool's Gold Loaf sandwich, which involves stuffing a pound of bacon, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly inside a buttery loaf of hollowed-out French bread.
9. Elvis Presley had a habit of shooting at appliances and other household items.
Most famously, Elvis once opened fire at a Graceland television that was showing a performance by crooner Robert Goulet. Years later, Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern told the Associated Press that the incident was nothing against Goulet personally, saying, "Elvis just shot out things on a random basis." (In a sort of strange twist, Priscilla Presley ended up starring opposite Goulet many years later, in 1991's The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.)
Presley also built a firing range at Graceland and reportedly had a habit of floating flashbulbs in his pool and shooting at them as he indulged on watermelon.
10. Elvis Presley appeared in more than 30 movies throughout his career.
Elvis appeared as an actor in 31 movies between 1956 and 1972, including Jailhouse Rock; G.I. Blues; and Girls, Girls, Girls. The films and Presley’s performances were often panned by critics, but at the peak of Elvis’s career, they brought his devoted fans to movie theaters in droves—then to record stores to pick up the soundtracks that accompanied the movies. In all, only one of Elvis's movies lost money at the box office: 1961's Wild in the Country.
11. Elvis Presley's Daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, has her own music career.
While she’ll forever be known as Elvis Presley’s only child (and for marriages to Michael Jackson and Nicolas Cage), Lisa Marie Presley is also a musician in her own right. She has released three albums, including the 2003 gold-certified release To Whom It May Concern, and has collaborated with a wide array of musicians, including Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan, rock icon Pat Benatar, and even Elvis himself, who posthumously joined his daughter for a duet of "Don't Cry Daddy," thanks to some clever editing of the original recordings.
12. Elvis Presley's photo with Richard Nixon is one of the most requested at the National Archives.
Once called a threat to American decency, Elvis wrangled a meeting with President Richard Nixon in 1970. "I'm on your side," Presley told the president, while clad in a distinctive purple velvet suit. Nixon also arranged for Elvis, who collected police insignia, to get a souvenir badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. "The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him," then-wife Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir. In 2015, the U.S. National Archives confirmed that the photo of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands gets more requests for reproduction by the public than any other in its collection.
13. Elvis Presley had a black belt in karate.
While stationed in Germany with the Army, Presley began studying karate, which would remain a passion for him throughout his life. He was awarded his seventh-degree black belt in 1972, and he used his knowledge of the fighting technique to choreograph combat scenes in his movies. He would even show off some of his moves on stage during concerts.
14. Elvis Presley's Manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was only kind of a colonel.
Elvis’s career was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, known for his strict control over his performances and for taking half of Elvis’s earnings as his fee. ("He takes 50 percent of everything I earn," Parker quipped of Presley.) Despite being called "Colonel," Parker never came close to the rank when in the Army. It was an honorary title he received from country singer and songwriter Jimmie Davis after Parker aided Davis’s successful bid for Louisiana governor.
15. Elvis Presley had an eclectic pet menagerie at Graceland.
Once he moved to Graceland, Elvis had no shortage of animals on site, from donkeys and a monkey to more conventional pets like dogs and horses. There was even a mynah bird that learned to mimic strings of profanity while hanging around Elvis and his friends. Visitors to Graceland can see the horses the museum keeps today in honor of Elvis and his array of animals.
16. Elvis Presley had one of the most successful concert residencies in history.
The singer of "Viva Las Vegas" once performed a now-astonishing 636 sold-out shows at Vegas’s International Hotel, appearing twice a night, seven days a week beginning in 1969. The appearances cemented a career resurgence that began with a comeback special, which aired on NBC in 1968. Years after Elvis and other early rockers had yielded the pop charts to newer acts like The Beatles in the early '60s, "The King" was back.
17. Elvis Presley never performed outside of North America.
Although his music remains popular around the world, Elvis Presley almost never performed abroad. In fact, his only appearances outside the United States were all in Canada. The reason why is unclear, although it’s often been suggested that the decision may have been related to the uncertain immigration status of his longtime manager, Netherlands-born Colonel Tom Parker.