There are many rock and roll royals, but only Elvis Presley is the king. This crooner is so beloved by fans of all ages, even several decades after his untimely death at age 42, that many of them believe he is still secretly alive. To these and many more rock and roll listeners, Presley is not just a king: he’s a god.
Like many of the mythical gods of old, however, Presley started out like any of us: a mere mortal with a dream of stardom.
Once Upon A Time In Memphis
Presley’s musical career began in 1954 when he was nineteen years old, in Memphis, TN. Together with a trio of other musicians, Presley brought the sound of rockabilly to the public ear and became the white representative of African American music. But he wouldn’t become a solo star in his own right until 1956, when he released his first hit single, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
From that point, Presley began a successful career of playing and promoting his music on television networks and the talk shows of the era. He appeared on the Milton Berle Show, the Steve Allen Show, and the Ed Sullivan Show, where he played his hit songs including “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender.”
In The Movies
In the 1960s, following an honorable discharge from the military after being drafted, Presley switched his focus from music only to movies. While the 27 movies Presley starred in during this period were popular among fans, they were not critically acclaimed by any means. Presley was not a naturally gifted actor, and the plots of his films tended to run the same gamut: romantic comedy.
Rocking The World
In 1968, Presley finally found his footing in music again. He donned tight leather pants and sang newly recorded songs in an NBC television special in December 1968. This special, performed in front of a small audience, marked the first time Presley performed live since 1961. The show was a hit; 42 percent of NBC’s viewership tuned in.
During this era, Presley rocked the world once more with hits like “If I Can Dream,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “Kentucky Rain.” He became the star attraction at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, where he performed at least twice annually for the next five years.
In the 70s, Presley’s fame didn’t falter or waver. He continued to tour, met President Richard Nixon, and performed in a live special in Hawaii that was aired all over the globe. It broke viewership records in Japan, and the album he released for the special became the number one selling pop album in the US at the time.
Royal For All Time
Sadly, Presley’s success was overshadowed by the final months leading up to his sudden death in 1977. His divorce from his wife Priscilla hit him hard, and over time he grew increasingly depressed. In response to that depression, he took barbiturates and even overdosed on them more than once.
Meanwhile, his public image was no longer as glittery and bright. Critics and younger audiences began to see him and his leather costumes as cheap and gaudy, particularly after his weight gain.
In 1977, Presley died from cardiac arrest in his hotel room.
His tragic ending can’t make us forget the bright glow of his smooth, crooning voice, catchy rockabilly, country, gospel, and pop hits, and brilliant showmanship. For these reasons, Elvis Presley will always be rock and roll royalty.
To hear your favorite Elvis Presley hits on Retro Radio Australia, request them from our music library on our website. And don’t forget to buy your tickets to the Parkes Elvis Festival, for which Retro Radio Australia is an official broadcast partner. This rockin’ event will be held in Parkes, New South Wales on April 20-24, 2022.