Few figures in rock historical past are as controversial as Colonel Tom Parker.
The Dutch-born carny-turned-manager plucked Elvis Presley from obscurity and turned him into one of many largest stars in historical past. However the two had an often-thorny relationship, and Parker’s enterprise practices have been broadly scrutinized and criticized through the years. He has been steadily accused of halting Presley’s profession by refusing to let him tour abroad, relegating him to B-movie purgatory for a lot of the ’60s and sucking him dry as a Vegas lounge act slightly than letting him flourish artistically.
In Baz Luhrmann‘s new Elvis biopic, out Friday, Tom Hanks portrays Parker as this type of Machiavellian supervillain. And whereas Hanks’ bombastic efficiency is nearly hilarious in its absurdity, his actions and motivations all through the film are pretty rooted in actuality, in keeping with biographers and former members of Parker and Presley’s entourage.
Born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in Breda, Netherlands, in 1909, Parker illegally emigrated to america at age 20, whereupon he modified his identify and assumed a brand new id. (A well-liked however fully unsubstantiated theory suggests Parker fled Breda after killing the spouse of a greengrocer.) He obtained his begin as a carnival employee earlier than coming into the music enterprise, taking up shoppers such because the crooner Gene Austin and nation singers Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Tommy Sands. Parker additionally assisted Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis on his marketing campaign, and for his efforts he obtained the honorary title of “Colonel.”
Parker met Presley in 1955 and shortly satisfied RCA Victor to purchase the singer out of his contract with Solar Data. In 1956 Presley signed a contact that made Parker his sole consultant. Collectively, their success was meteoric, as Presley’s debut single for RCA Victor, “Heartbreak Resort,” grew to become a No. 1 hit and turned him right into a famous person. It was the start of a staggering run of chart-toppers that may final into the early ’60s.
Hearken to Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Resort’
Presley’s fame got here at a value, although, with Parker taking as much as 50% of the singer’s earnings, whereas most managers took 10 to fifteen%. Parker argued that Presley was his sole consumer and thus the fee was well-earned. However cash wasn’t the one level of rivalry in Presley and Parker’s partnership. After getting back from a two-year army stint in 1960, Presley started starring in a slew of Hollywood movies that have been profitable on the field workplace however virtually universally panned by critics. Parker did not care; he noticed that he might extract most income out of Presley by preserving him on a rigorous movie schedule and utilizing the accompanying soundtracks to satisfy his contractual obligations to RCA.
It is up for debate whether or not Parker killed Presley’s music profession within the early ’60s; it is totally attainable that his profession would have languished anyway among the many new wave of shaggy-haired, countercultural rockers who wrote their very own music, such because the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Nonetheless, Presley’s desires of being a critical actor went unfulfilled, and he was caught recording subpar musical materials for a lot of the ’60s.
By 1968, Presley’s musical profession was in dire straits, however he reversed his fortunes with an eponymous comeback particular, a televised efficiency that aired on Dec. 3, 1968, and located him taking part in in entrance of his first reside viewers in seven years. It was a smashing success that noticed Presley in tip-top kind, and provides rapidly rolled in from all over the world for him to carry out. Parker, nevertheless, would not let his consumer abroad. As an undocumented immigrant, Parker did not have a passport and feared that if he bumped into hassle overseas, he would not be capable of return to the States. He additionally would not let Presley make the trek with anybody else as a result of he needed to have full management over his “attraction” — to borrow Parker’s previous carnival vernacular — always.
Watch Elvis Presley Carry out ‘Making an attempt to Get to You’ on the ’68 Comeback Particular
As a substitute, Parker discovered a profitable stateside possibility for his money cow. In 1969, Presley went to Las Vegas to start performing on the newly opened Worldwide Resort, which grew to become generally known as the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971. Between 1969 and his demise on Aug. 16, 1977, Presley performed over 600 exhibits on the Hilton. The singer was raking in money hand over fist from these engagements, however he discovered them artistically stultifying and grew to resent Las Vegas.
Parker stored Presley performing nonstop in Vegas to repay his playing money owed, which ballooned to $30 million on the Hilton alone by 1977. “It was widespread data that Parker was deeply into the ‘individuals’ in Vegas due to his monumental playing losses,” Presley’s private hairstylist Larry Geller stated in Alanna Nash’s guide The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. “Elvis grew to become extra conscious of this as time glided by and knew that he was Colonel Parker’s bait and ransom, that Parker owned him, and no matter losses Parker incurred, Elvis would finally repay by performing.”
In the meantime, the Colonel would additionally guide Presley in Podunk cities, put him up in dumpy accommodations and have him play depressing venues like highschool gymnasiums. He argued that followers who lived off the overwhelmed path deserved to see the King as effectively. In actuality, he was leaning on his previous carny connections to tug favors and attempting to chop prices between greater cities and venues.
As Parker continued to work Presley ragged, the singer’s well being deteriorated as he grew to become depending on pharmaceuticals to maintain him going onstage and put him to sleep at night time. However in 1973, the Colonel dedicated the last word betrayal, promoting Presley’s whole again catalog to RCA for $5.4 million, a gross undervaluation for one of the crucial substantial catalogs in music historical past. After taxes, Presley solely noticed about $2 million of it, a lot of which went towards his divorce settlement along with his ex-wife Priscilla.
Watch Elvis Presley Carry out ‘Jailhouse Rock’ Stay in 1977
Parker’s deal meant that Presley’s property would obtain no royalties on any of his songs recorded previous to 1973. Following Presley’s demise, Elvis Presley Enterprises sued Parker for mismanagement, utilizing this deal as proof. The case was settled out of courtroom in 1983, and in change for $2 million, Parker needed to relinquish all video and audio recordings of Presley and quit his earnings on all Presley-related supplies for the following 5 years.
The sale of his catalog was the ultimate nail within the coffin of Presley and Parker’s relationship. From 1973 to his demise, the rocker had little direct contact along with his supervisor and lived out the remainder of his days as a depressed, drug-addicted shell of his former self. Parker additionally torpedoed Presley’s final shot at critical film stardom after he was approached to star alongside Barbra Streisand within the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. Warner Bros. and Streisand’s First Artists manufacturing firm provided Presley $500,000 plus 10% of the web income for the function, to which Parker responded with a requirement for $1 million and 50% of gross income, $100,000 in bills, approval on all of Presley’s songs and a chunk of the soundtrack. Parker by no means heard again from First Artists, and the function as an alternative went to nation singer Kris Kristofferson.
Regardless of Presley’s clearly poor situation, he retained a grueling efficiency schedule in Vegas and on the street. Parker definitely wasn’t ignorant to Presley’s well being woes. As late as Could 1977, he noticed the singer barely aware backstage earlier than a gig in Louisville, Ky. In keeping with Geller, Parker noticed Presley’s physician administering him medication and dunking his head in ice water with a purpose to get him able to carry out. However the Colonel had no real interest in the King’s well being. “You take heed to me!” Parker reportedly shouted. “The one factor that is vital is that he is on that stage tonight! Nothing else issues!”
Three months later, Presley was useless.