Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley : biography

8 January 1935 – 16 August 1977

The persistence of such attitudes was fueled by resentment over the fact that Presley, whose musical and visual performance idiom owed much to African American sources, achieved the cultural acknowledgment and commercial success largely denied his black peers. Into the 21st century, the notion that Presley had "stolen" black music still found adherents. Notable among African American entertainers expressly rejecting this view was Jackie Wilson, who argued, "A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis." And throughout his career, Presley plainly acknowledged his debt. Addressing his ’68 Comeback Special audience, he said, "Rock ‘n’ roll music is basically gospel or rhythm and blues, or it sprang from that. People have been adding to it, adding instruments to it, experimenting with it, but it all boils down to [that]." Nine years earlier, he had said, "Rock ‘n’ roll has been around for many years. It used to be called rhythm and blues."

Questions over cause of death

"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."

Amidst mounting pressure 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.

Notes

  • Although some pronounce his surname "PREZ-lee", Presley himself used the pronunciation of the American South, "PRESS-lee", as did his family and those who worked with him. The correct spelling of his middle name has long been a matter of debate. The physician who delivered him wrote "Elvis Aaron Presley" in his ledger. The state-issued birth certificate reads "Elvis Aron Presley". The name was chosen after the Presleys’ friend and fellow congregation member Aaron Kennedy, though a single-A spelling was probably intended by Presley’s parents in order to parallel the middle name of Presley’s stillborn brother, Jesse Garon. It reads Aron on most official documents produced during his lifetime, including his high school diploma, RCA record contract, and marriage license, and this was generally taken to be the proper spelling. In 1966, Presley expressed the desire to his father that the more traditional biblical rendering, Aaron, be used henceforth, "especially on legal documents." Five years later, the Jaycees citation honoring him as one of the country’s Outstanding Young Men used Aaron. Late in his life, he sought to officially change the spelling to Aaron and discovered that state records already listed it that way. Knowing his wishes for his middle name, Aaron is the spelling his father chose for Presley’s tombstone, and it is the spelling his estate has designated as official.
  • According to a third cousin of Presley’s, one of Gladys’s great-grandmothers was Jewish. There is no evidence that Presley or his mother shared this belief in a Jewish heritage. Syndicated columnist Nate Bloom has challenged the cousin’s account, which he calls a "tall tale".
  • Of the $40,000, $5,000 covered back royalties owed by Sun.
  • In 1956–57, Presley was also credited as a cowriter on several songs where he had no hand in the writing process: "Heartbreak Hotel"; "Don’t Be Cruel"; all four songs from his first film, including the title track, "Love Me Tender"; "Paralyzed"; and "All Shook Up". He received credit on two other songs to which he did contribute: he provided the title for "That’s Someone You Never Forget" (1961), written by his friend Red West; Presley and West collaborated with another friend, guitarist Charlie Hodge, on "You’ll Be Gone" (1962).
  • Whitburn follows actual Billboard history in considering the four songs on the "Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog" and "Don’t/I Beg of You" singles as distinct. He tallies each side of the former single as a number one (Billboards sales chart had "Don’t Be Cruel" at number one for five weeks, then "Hound Dog" for six) and reckons "I Beg of You" as a top ten, as it reached number eight on the old Top 100 chart. Billboard now considers both singles as unified items, ignoring the historical sales split of the former and its old Top 100 chart entirely. Whitburn thus analyzes the four songs as yielding three number ones and a total of four top tens. Billboard now states that they yielded just two number ones and a total of two top tens, voiding the separate chart appearances of "Hound Dog" and "I Beg of You".
  • VH1 ranked Presley No. 8 among the "100 Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll" in 1998. The BBC ranked him as the No. 2 "Voice of the Century" in 2001. Rolling Stone placed him No. 3 in its list of "The Immortals: The Fifty Greatest Artists of All Time" in 2004. CMT ranked him No. 15 among the "40 Greatest Men in Country Music" in 2005. The Discovery Channel placed him No. 8 on its "Greatest American" list in 2005. Variety put him in the top ten of its "100 Icons of the Century" in 2005. The Atlantic Monthly ranked him No. 66 among the "100 Most Influential Figures in American History" in 2006.
  • (1) The year given is the year the record first reached number one, rather than its original year of release. For instance, in 1974, Elvis’ 40 Greatest, a compilation on the budget Arcade label, was the fourth highest selling album of the year in the United Kingdom; at the time, the main British chart did not rank such compilations, relegating them to a chart for midpriced and TV-advertised albums, which Elvis’ 40 Greatest topped for 15 weeks. The policy was altered in 1975, allowing the album to hit number one on the main chart in 1977, following Presley’s death. (2) Before late 1958, rather than unified pop and country singles charts, Billboard had as many as four charts for each, separately ranking records according to sales, jukebox play, jockey spins (i.e., airplay), and, in the case of pop, a general Top 100. Billboard now regards the sales charts as definitive for the period. Widely cited chart statistician Joel Whitburn accords historical releases the highest ranking they achieved among the separate charts. Presley discographer Ernst Jorgensen refers only to the Top 100 chart for pop hits. All of the 1956–58 songs listed here as number one U.S. pop hits reached the top of both the sales and, with three exceptions, the Top 100 charts: "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" (three), "Hound Dog" (two, behind its flip side, "Don’t Be Cruel"), and "Hard Headed Woman" (two). (3) Several Presley singles reached number one in the United Kingdom as double A-sides; in the United States, the respective sides of those singles were ranked separately by Billboard.
  • Whitburn calculates a total of six number one R&B singles, including "Don’t Be Cruel", released as a double A-side with "Hound Dog"; Billboards Keith Caulfield excludes "Don’t Be Cruel".