What You Never Knew About Elvis Presley

The long-awaited biopic "Elvis" will be released in theaters on June 24, 2022. The film "explores the life and music of Elvis Presley," played by Austin Butler, through the eyes of the singer's "enigmatic manager Colonel Tom Parker" portrayed by the critically acclaimed actor Tom Hanks. It will trace the relationship between Presley and Parker over a span of two decades, from Presley's rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom and untimely death (via Warner Bros). In July 2019, ahead of production, Butler spoke with E! News during his red carpet appearance for the premiere of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and shared that being cast to play the icon was "truly the privilege of a lifetime."

Elvis Presley is one of the most renowned entertainers who is genuinely one of a kind. The Southern singer, who was an originator and revolutionary, was so much more than his coiffed black hair and sideburns. How much do you truly know about the man dubbed "The King of Rock and Roll"? Here are some details about Elvis Presley that may surprise you.

Elvis Presley's twin brother died at birth

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, on January 8, 1935. His mother, Gladys Presley, was pregnant with twins; unfortunately, one of her babies didn't make it. During an in-depth interview with Good Housekeeping in 1978, Elvis's father, Vernon Presley, spoke about his wife's pregnancy. Vernon shared that he was only 18 years old when he found out that Gladys was expecting, and when she went into labor, he was terrified because she was having pretty bad labor pains. A baby, named Jessie, came out after what seemed like a lifetime, but unfortunately, he was stillborn. But to everyone's surprise, Gladys was not done giving birth.

Vernon stated, "I was desolate at the loss of our child. But then my father put his hand on my wife's stomach and announced, 'Vernon, there's another baby here.'" Since doctors didn't have the capability back then to tell if the mother-to-be was having multiple births, the family didn't know about the other baby in the womb. Thirty-five minutes later, after having Jessie, Elvis was born. Jessie was named after Vernon's father and decided to give his second son his own middle name, Elvis. According to Vernon, "We chose the middle names of Garon for Jesse and Aron for Elvis because we knew a couple whose twin sons had those names." Jessie was buried at Priceville Memorial Gardens in Tupelo, but a small memorial stone lies in the Meditation Garden at Graceland, according to the official website.

Elvis was studying to be an electrician before recording his first album

By 1956, Elvis Presley was a household name. But before his music career took off, according to Sun Records, Presley was just a regular working man employed at Crown Electric Company. He did various jobs for the company, including driving a delivery truck. Presley made $1 an hour delivering supplies to various job sites in the Memphis area, according to the Graceland website. He stayed with the company even after he started recording music with Sun Records and while his band gained modest success as they performed in clubs in Memphis and around the Southern region. It was during the fall of 1954 that Presley decided to quit his job (and most likely school) to commit to his music career full time. 

In an interview with Jay Thompson from Breckenridge radio station KSTB in 1955, Presley talked about what he was doing for work before his big break. He disclosed that he had been driving a truck and "was studying to be an electrician." When Thompson stated that Presley left his blue collar life behind for a career in music and "tore the electrician deal all to heck" the entertainer in turn replied, "Tore the electrician deal and the trucks all up" (via Elvis Information Network).

He purchased Graceland at the tender age of 22

On March 19, 1957, Elvis Presley purchased Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, which became his home base for twenty years until his death. Presley put down a $1,000 cash deposit and purchased the home and grounds, which was intended for his mom and dad, for just over $100,000. The 13.8-acre property was initially owned by Stephen C. Toof, a local printer who named the land "Graceland Farms" for his daughter Grace, who inherited it after his death in 1894. It was Grace's niece Ruth Moore and her husband who actually built the colonial mansion on the property (via History.com).

When Presley bought it, he kept the name and expanded on the 10,266-square-foot property. Once Graceland was renovated, it had a total of 23 rooms, including eight bedrooms and bathrooms. This was the second home he had purchased for his folks — the first one had become overrun with fans, and he wanted privacy for himself and his family, according to Commercial Appeal.

The mansion was quite expensive to maintain, and after Presley's death, the future of Graceland was quite grim. Rather than run the risk of losing it, Priscilla Presley and the executors of Elvis' estate decided to open Graceland to the public for tours so they wouldn't have to sell the home (via Outsider). On March 28, 2006, Graceland Mansion was designated as a National Historic Landmark and is one of the most visited houses in the United States, according to History.

Elvis was drafted in the U.S. Army during the height of his career

While spending the Christmas holidays with his family at Graceland, Elvis Presley received an army draft notice on December 20, 1957. Days later, Presley wrote formally asking for a postponement because he needed to finish filming the movie "King Creole" after the new year. Luckily for Presley, the Memphis Draft Board granted him a deferment until March 20, 1958, so he could complete his film. His service began at the height of his career on March 24, 1958, as a GI during the Cold War. Presley spent six months training at Fort Hood in Texas. Then, from October 1, 1958, until March 2, 1960, he served in Germany, where, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, he was a member of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor, and was promoted to sergeant during his stint, per the Washington Post.

Shortly after returning home, Presley reflected on his experiences in an interview and stated, "All in all, it's been a pretty good experience." He also shared that basic training wasn't hard for him, but once he had to put the uniform on and go overseas, things became difficult. Presley noted that it wasn't the service itself that presented a challenge, but being in a strange land. He also disclosed he had to spend quite a bit of time out in the fields in Germany, and getting used to the cold and all the snow took some adjustment. 

Elvis Presley's mother died when he was in his twenties

On August 14, 1958, Elvis Presley's mother, Gladys Presley, passed away at the young age of 46. According to Express, Elvis and his mother had a very close relationship, and he referred to Gladys as "my baby." Gladys was very protective of her son and wasn't comfortable with his rise to stardom. During the height of Elvis' career, she would reportedly take pills to help her sleep at night and would drink alcohol throughout the day. Eventually, Gladys' doctor told her she had liver problems, likely from her excessive drinking. Not too long after Elvis was drafted into the military, doctors detected she had hepatitis. Elvis was granted leave from the army when he got word about his mother's declining health and made it to his mother's side two days before her death (per Express).

Gladys was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, not far from Graceland. Elvis' longtime friend Judy Spreckels recalled Gladys' death and stated to CBS News that Elvis cried and hugged her for about a half-hour and remarked, "It was the saddest thing I'd ever seen." Allegedly, at the funeral, Elvis fell onto his mother's coffin and cried out, "Please don't take my baby away! She's not dead. She's just sleeping" (via Express). The Washington Post states that the singer began taking drugs during this dark period after his mother's death.

Elvis never performed internationally

Elvis Presley was massively popular around the world and still continues to be celebrated all around the world today. Presley has sold over 1 billion records worldwide and has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the best-selling solo artist of all time. However, despite all his fame and notoriety overseas, Presley hardly did any touring outside of the United States. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the only country he performed in besides the U.S. was Canada. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had concerts in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver in 1957 (via Torontoist). On the 30th anniversary of the King's death in 2007, CBC reporter Cory O'Kelly interviewed fans who had attended Presley's Ottawa show back on April 3, 1957. One fan stated that he and his friends didn't hear much of the music because the ladies in the audience were screaming, yelling, and going crazy for Presley, who took the stage that night in a sold-out show.

Reportedly, the musician never performed in other countries because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, had a somewhat sketchy past. He had allegedly immigrated to the U.S. illegally and never legally became a citizen. This means that if Parker ever left the United States, he wouldn't have been able to come back. Reportedly, his lack of a passport caused him to turn down several million-dollar touring opportunities for Presley (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Elvis Presley was a black belt in karate

When Elvis Presley was sent to Germany, he took up karate and was taught by a man named Juergen Seydel during his time in the army. While learning the martial art, the entertainer developed a passion and great love for it. When he returned to the United States, he met and trained with Ed Parker, according to The Washington Post, who was a master at Kenpo karate in addition to being taught under the tutelage of Chito-Ryu stylist Hank Slemasnky. When he moved back to Memphis, Tennessee, Presley trained under Master Kang Rhee and obtained his first-degree black belt in 1960. The singer would go on to become a seventh-degree and eighth-degree black belt, earning the titles in 1973 and in 1974 (via the Graceland website).

According to an interview with The Washington Post, Ed Parker said the military and karate boosted Presley's confidence, image, and character. The karate instructor also shared with the outlet, "His karate motions helped him to radiate a vibrance to the audience, and they stimulated a vibrancy in himself." Last year, a new exhibit called the "King of Karate" debuted at Graceland, highlighting Presley's love and dedication to the art (via Graceland's website).

Elvis once owned the USS Potomac

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's time as the 32nd President of the United States, he traveled aboard the USS Potomac, dubbed the "Floating White House" because he preferred cruising on the yacht to staying in the White House (via USSPotomac.org). After Elvis Presley heard that the boat was doomed for the scrap heap, he decided to buy the boat for $55,000. Originally Presley was going to donate the historic ship to the March of Dimes Foundation, one of his favorite charities; however, the organization declined the offer. The group was concerned with the cost of upkeep and maintenance of the yacht. 

Presley then decided to find another charity to donate to, and in February of 1964, the entertainer presented the USS Potomac to Danny Thomas and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (via Graceland's website ). During the presentation, Thomas thanked Presley for his generous donation and said, "On behalf of St. Jude Hospital of Memphis, Tennessee, our hometown ... the children's research center there thanks you very much." He also shared that the hospital would sell it to raise money (via "Elvis Word for Word, What he Said, Exactly How he Said it"). The USS Potomac, according to St. Jude, was sold not too long after Presley gifted the vessel for between $60,000 and $75,000.

Elvis Presley met Priscilla while stationed in Germany

Elvis and Priscilla Presley (née Beaulieu) met in 1959, when he was 24 years old and she only 14, in Germany while Priscilla's stepfather was serving in the Air Force. Reportedly, the teenager made quite the impression on the superstar when the pair locked eyes at Presley's home, and not long after meeting, the pair began to date. Allegedly, when Presley met Priscilla's parents, Mr. Beaulieu inquired as to why the celebrity would be interested in his daughter, and he replied, "Sir, I happen to be very fond of her. She's a lot more mature than her age, and I enjoy her company." During Presley's stint in Germany, he spent most of his time with Priscilla, and when he returned to the U.S., she would send letters to her beau. In 1962, she visited Presley in Los Angeles and also spent the holidays at Graceland. The following year, Priscilla moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to be with Presley and finish high school (according to Biography).

While chatting with People Magazine, she recalled their early courtship and stated, "I wanted to go places with him. I would cry if I couldn't be around him." They married in 1967 in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the Aladdin Hotel, and in 1968, the newlyweds welcomed daughter Lisa Marie Presley. Unfortunately, in 1973, they divorced, but Priscilla told People that she didn't have any regrets about their relationship and treasures the good times they had.

Elvis and Priscilla were much closer after they divorced

For many years, Elvis and Priscilla Presley had a troubled yet loving relationship. In a 2016 candid interview with Loose Women, Priscilla shared that she didn't divorce Elvis because she didn't love him. According to her, Elvis was the love of her life, but she needed to experience the real world and live her own life. Priscilla had mentioned earlier in the interview that being married to Elvis meant you lived his life, and stated that she didn't have a life of her own and lost herself. When the couple amicably divorced, they ended up becoming closer than they ever were while married and finally could communicate with one another. 

While chatting with The Sydney Morning Herald, she told them that after their marriage ended, Elvis would come by her apartment to see her, and she would visit him at Graceland. Priscilla recalled, "He would still come over to my house. I would still sit in his lap. He would still call me my pet names that he gave me. He would still come by my house at two o'clock in the morning and talk for hours, and when I went to Graceland, it's the same thing." According to Express, Priscilla had noted that the two had become pretty good friends and were able to bond over the years and, after Elvis' passing, she became lost and afraid for some time.

Las Vegas didn't warm up to Elvis Presley right away

Elvis Presley and his band first played Las Vegas on April 23, 1956. Presley was booked at the New Frontier Hotel for two weeks. According to Nevada Magazine, his manager Colonel Tom Parker booked the gig because he wanted to shed Presley's Southern honky tonk image and get him noticed nationwide. Unfortunately, his first show was somewhat of a flop. Real Clear History suggests that there was a mismatch between Presley and the audience that caused the disconnection. Newsweek compared the performance to "a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party." Las Vegas Sun journalist Bill Willard recalled that after the lackluster show, he wrote that he didn't think the entertainer would go far in Las Vegas.

After his two-week stint, Presley went off to film the movie "Love Me Tender" and wouldn't return to Sin City until 13 years later. When he returned in 1969 to perform (which was his first time back on stage in nine years) at the International Hotel, Presley was ready for his audience this time. He had studied the city and "was an all-around entertainer fronting a rock band polished and magnified by horns and strings." Presley's show was a hit, and he was offered a five-year gig performing in Las Vegas twice a year for a week at the hotel (via Nevada Magazine). From 1969 to 1977, the King would perform a whopping 636 in the city, according to Express.

Elvis took a seven year hiatus from singing to act

"I want to become a good actor because you can't build a whole career on just singing," Elvis Presley told a Time Life Magazine reporter after his time in the military (via The Guardian). Presley made 31 films from 1959-1969, and many of them were box-office hits that made him, his manager Colonel Tom Parker, and movie studios a lot of money. When the Rock 'n' Roll icon was discharged from the army, Parker wanted him to focus more on acting and less on music. Reportedly, it was because of the larger paydays, and around 1961, Presley stopped performing live and put all of his energy into making movies (via Biography.com).

Throughout his acting career, Presley wanted to land profound roles. During a press conference, shared he wanted to take his acting to the next level. Unfortunately, Parker had no desire to help Presley become a great thespian. He was only interested in having him act in movies that called for him to sing in different tropical locations, like "Blue Hawaii" (per "Elvis Presley, Reluctant Rebel: His Life and Our Times"). By 1966, Presley commanded at least $500,000 plus 20% of the profits to appear in his movies. However, by 1968, he was ready to re-focus on his music. After seven years, he made his comeback in a 1968 televised special (via Rolling Stone).

He didn't write his own music

Throughout Elvis Presley's illustrious career, he recorded over 600 songs (via Country Thang Daily). However, he never wrote one lyric. In a 1957 interview with Dig Magazine, he stated, "It's a big hoax ... I never wrote a song in my life. I get one-third of the credit for recording it." Freddy Bienstock, who was hired in 1956 to find and present songs to the King, shared with American Songwriter that he knew the type of songs Presley would want to sing and which ones he would be into. Bienstock also stated that if the singer didn't like the song, he didn't want any part of it. He shared that Presley had to feel the music if he was going to sing it and added, "When there was a song he especially liked, he was almost a perfectionist about getting it just right." 

While Presley didn't write any of his music, but came up with the idea for one of his songs. According to Dig Magazine, Presley said his hit song "All Shook Up" stemmed from one of his dreams, and he called one of his songwriting friends and told him about it, and by the next day, he had lyrics. A friend of Presley's, Lamar Fike, told American Songwriter that when it came to music the entertainer had an ear for it, and "If he hadn't been more right than wrong, he wouldn't have sold 200 ... 300 million singles."

Elvis wasn't that great of a guitar player

Elvis Presley first picked up a guitar on his eleventh birthday, when his mother purchased one for him from Tupelo Hardware, according to the Graceland website. Reportedly, Presley wanted a bike or a riffle instead, but she thought either one of those would be too dangerous for her son. Throughout most of his career, Presley hit the stage with the instrument in his hand. However, some fans may be shocked that the singer wasn't that great at playing the instrument. 

According to Express, in 1956, after fans had been wondering if Presley actually could play the guitar, he decided to clear up any rumors one way or another and wrote an article in the Elvis Answers Back Magazine. He told his fan club that he had heard numerous stories about his ability to play the guitar. Presley also remarked that he wasn't a great player. However, he wrote that he learned how to play a few chords and stated he could "plunk on it pretty good, and follow a tune if I'm really pressed to do it. But I've never won any prizes, and I never will." He also shared that a bandmate always played guitar for him while on stage, and his guitar was something he had with him more out of comfort. Presley called the instrument his "best friend" and disclosed that during his first performance, "it kept me company, and I knew I wasn't alone out there making a fool of myself."