Elvis Aaron Presleya was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, United States & died on August 16, 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee, United States, was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the “King of Rock and Roll” or simply “the King”.
Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Vernon Elvis and Gladys Love Presley. In the two-room shotgun house built by his father in readiness for the birth, Jesse Garon Presley, his identical twin brother, was delivered 35 minutes before him, stillborn. As an only child, Presley became close to both parents and formed an unusually tight bond with his mother. The family attended an Assembly of God church where he found his initial musical inspiration.
In September 1941, Presley entered first grade at East Tupelo Consolidated, where his instructors regarded him as “average”. He was encouraged to enter a singing contest after impressing his schoolteacher with a rendition of Red Foley’s country song “Old Shep” during morning prayers. The contest, held at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show on October 3, 1945, saw his first public performance: dressed as a cowboy, the ten-year-old Presley stood on a chair to reach the microphone and sang “Old Shep”. He recalled placing fifth. A few months later, Presley received for his birthday his first guitar. He had hoped for something else—by different accounts, either a bicycle or a rifle. Over the following year, he received basic guitar lessons from two of his uncles and the new pastor at the family’s church. Presley recalled, “I took the guitar, and I watched people, and I learned to play a little bit. But I would never sing in public. I was very shy about it.”
Entering a new school, Milam, for sixth grade in September 1946, Presley was regarded as a loner. The following year, he began bringing his guitar in on a daily basis. He would play and sing during lunchtime, and was often teased as a “trashy” kid who played hillbilly music. The family was by then living in a largely African American neighborhood. A devotee of Mississippi Slim’s show on the Tupelo radio station WELO, Presley was described as “crazy about music” by Slim’s younger brother, a classmate of Presley’s, who often took him in to the station. Slim supplemented Presley’s guitar tuition by demonstrating chord techniques. When his protégé was 12 years old, Slim scheduled him for two on-air performances. Presley was overcome by stage fright the first time, but succeeded in performing the following week.
Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family at the age of 13. He began his career there in 1954 when Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, eager to bring the sound of African American music to a wider audience, saw in Presley the means to realize his ambition. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was one of the originators of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country and rhythm and blues. RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who would manage the singer for over two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, released in January 1956, was a number one hit. He became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs, many from African American sources, and his uninhibited performance style made him enormously popular—and controversial. In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender.
Conscripted into military service in 1958, Presley relaunched his recording career two years later with some of his most commercially successful work. He staged few concerts, however, and, guided by Parker, proceeded to devote much of the 1960s to making Hollywood movies and soundtrack albums, most of them critically derided. In 1968, after seven years away from the stage, he returned to live performance in a celebrated comeback television special that led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of profitable tours. In 1973, Presley staged the first concert broadcast globally via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii, seen by approximately 1.5 billion viewers. Prescription drug abuse severely compromised his health, and he died suddenly in 1977 at the age of 42.
Presley is regarded as one of the most important figures of 20th-century popular culture. He had a versatile voice and unusually wide success encompassing many genres, including country, pop ballads, gospel, and blues. He is the best-selling solo artist in the history of popular music. Nominated for 14 competitive Grammys, he won three, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36. He has been inducted into four music halls of fame.
“Drug use was heavily implicated” in Presley’s death, writes Guralnick. “No one ruled out the possibility of anaphylactic shock brought on by the codeine pills … to which he was known to have had a mild allergy.” A pair of lab reports filed two months later each strongly suggested that polypharmacy was the primary cause of death; one reported “fourteen drugs in Elvis’ system, ten in significant quantity.” Forensic historian and pathologist Michael Baden views the situation as complicated: “Elvis had had an enlarged heart for a long time. That, together with his drug habit, caused his death. But he was difficult to diagnose; it was a judgment call.”
The competence and ethics of two of the centrally involved medical professionals were seriously questioned. Before the autopsy was complete and toxicology results known, Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco declared the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia, a condition that can be determined only in someone who is still alive. Allegations of a cover-up were widespread. While Presley’s main physician, Dr. Nichopoulos, was exonerated of criminal liability for the singer’s death, the facts were startling: “In the first eight months of 1977 alone, he had [prescribed] more than 10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics: all in Elvis’s name.” His license was suspended for three months. It was permanently revoked in the 1990s after the Tennessee Medical Board brought new charges of over-prescription.
In 1994, the Presley autopsy was reopened. Coroner Dr. Joseph Davis declared, “There is nothing in any of the data that supports a death from drugs. In fact, everything points to a sudden, violent heart attack.” Whether or not combined drug intoxication was in fact the cause, there is little doubt that polypharmacy contributed significantly to Presley’s premature death.