Elvis Presley was nicknamed "The King of Rock and Roll" for good reason. Though he didn't invent the genre, he definitely helped shape its sound with his unique flair by adding a bit of country, soul, and of course, his irresistible charm. He broke barriers and helped pave the way for several other iconic artists that would later follow in his footsteps. However, there are tons of little-known facts about the singer that would probably make even loyal fans do a double-take.
From his unique food preferences to his creative hair-dying methods, see some of the most surprising facts about the rock and roll legend.
It's kind of tough to imagine the bold, hip-swaying star as someone who was once shy, but believe it or not, he was a taciturn boy.
According to Heart Lanier Shapr's Why Elvis Left the Building: Revealing Seven Lost Years the Child the Man the Truth, Jimmy Denson, a childhood friend of the star, said: "The poor kid was shy ten times over—very thin; a 5 foot 7 inch boy. He was usually seen with his mama, Gladys, who was only 5 foot 3."
Unfortunately, his classmates took advantage of the fact that he was super quiet and awkward compared to everyone else. Barbara Pittman revealed: "My older brother went to school with him, and he and some of the other boys used to hide behind buildings and throw things at him—rotten fruit and stuff—because he was different, because he was quiet and he stuttered, and he was a mama’s boy."
Fans were surprised to learn this little detail from his former wife, Priscilla Presley. She said: "When he drank his coffee, he would always drink it close to the handle and not anywhere else, because everywhere else other people would drink. He was religious about it, so it was always his cup."
However, it turns out he was even more of a germaphobe when he was a kid. She explained: "When he was a child he would go to all his relatives’ homes and stay, and his mother would give him his own fork, and his own knife and spoon to bring, but he didn’t like it. He didn’t know for sure if it was clean or not."
They first met when Elvis was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in West Germany. However, he took a liking to Priscilla because he thought she resembled his late mom, Gladys. He also liked that she was much younger because he intended to shape her into his perfect woman. He actually said that she was "young enough that I can train her any way I want."
Priscilla was fine with this at first, but that all changed as she got older, eventually leading to their split.
In 1956, when Elvis made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, there were over 60 million viewers. However, several people were concerned that his daring, sexy performance would negatively influence teens. Still, he returned for a second appearance within the same year and, though ratings had skyrocketed, many people were so outraged that they burned and hanged the singer in effigy.
In 1954, Elvis auditioned to join a gospel quartet called the Songfellows, which was formed by Jim Hamill and Cecil Blackwood. However, the group rejected him. Though he could sing well solo, he struggled to harmonize when another singer took the lead. Elvis didn't give up that easily, though.
After Cecil moved on to join the Blackwood Brothers, Elvis was given another chance to join the group. But unfortunately, by that time, he already signed a contract with Sun records and therefore couldn't join the group.
Millions of fans were under the impression that his hair was naturally jet black, but in reality, he was born with blonde hair. He started dying his hair black since he was a teenager so he could look edgy. And before he could afford real hair dye (which was more of a luxury back then) he used black shoe polish as an alternative. There's only one photo of him that reveals his true hair color, and it's on display in Graceland.
Elvis was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi on January 8, 1935, but he wasn't the only one. His twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, was delivered 35 minutes before Elvis was, but he was sadly stillborn. The parents buried Jesse in an unmarked grave and decided to give Elvis the middle name "Aaron" in remembrance of his stillborn brother. Some sources claim that his mother once said he "possessed the power of two people, and was living for two souls."
He started training in the late '50s with a guy named Jürgen Seydel while he served in the Army. Then, when he returned home, he met and trained with a kenpo master named Ed Parker. By 1960, he earned a first-degree black belt under Hank Slemansky, a Chito Ryu stylist. And after this, he trained with Karate Master Kang Rhee. As he trained, he incorporated a lot of his techniques into his live performances and in 1974, he established the Tennessee Karate Institute.
Elvis bought the 18-room mansion for him and his family on March 25, 1957. He paid $102,500 for the estate and also had music gates and a pool installed. According to the Graceland website, the mansion used to be a cattle farm, which was also used for church gatherings on a few occasions. Now considered a historical place, over 600,000 visitors usually tour the estate each year.
In 1970, while he was traveling to Washington, Elvis wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon that said: "Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I would love to meet you. I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent."
It seemed pretty bizarre and out of the blue, but in her memoir Elvis and Me, Priscilla explained why he wanted a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. She said: "The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him. With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished." And so on December 21, 1970, after that letter was received, Elvis not only had a publicized meet-and-greet with the president, but he also got himself a badge with no training.
The singer had a soft spot for police officers. In fact, if he weren't making music, he most likely would've chosen it as his career path. The Graceland website mentions that he quickly made friends with officers whenever he traveled, and he had a habit of collecting badges from across the country. He also made donations to several Police Associations and departments.
But making friends with officers was just the tip of the iceberg. In the '70s, he got a kick out of pretending to be a police officer and pulling people over for speeding. After showing off his collected badges, he’d offer them his autograph and then drive off. That would be illegal today.
When he made his appearance on the Milton Berle Show at just 21, he debuted his signature dance move when he performed “Hound Dog.” His gyrating hips officially earned him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis,” but it also led to backlash, and many called his movements vulgar. After several protests, TV shows took note and decided to show Elvis only from the waist up. Elvis once claimed that he never intended for his dance moves to appear sexual, but it seems like people weren't convinced.
Fierce backlash wasn't the only result of Elvis' gyrating hips. In 1956, before Elvis performed his shows in Florida, Juvenile Court Judge Marion Gooding had a little meeting with the star and threatened to arrest him for "impairing the morality of minors" if he tried his suggestive dance moves again. The judge warned that he'd be watching the first show, but not only that - he even had deputies stationed in wings of the theater. So as a result, Elvis stood perfectly still and had to get creative with his hands.
Years later, Judge Gooding recalled: "They had me convinced that no teenage girl was safe around Elvis Presley. They wanted to have him watched at the theater, and they wanted his hotel room watched. They had him pictured as a real villain."
When Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958, he said he didn’t wish to be treated any differently, saying, "The Army can do anything it wants with me." But trying to blend in proved to be easier said than done. Branches of the armed forces preferred to use him as their recruiting model and offered to have him play concerts for the troops. But Elvis truly wanted to serve.
He said: “People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise. Not only to the people who were wondering but to myself.”
After he got promoted to sergeant, he traveled with his Army buddies across Europe, and they had wild parties. One of them, Rex Mansfield, recalled that things got violent on one occasion when someone got into a fight with him. He said: “He was a great big German guy, much bigger than me. He hit me first. Elvis knocked the guy out. He slid down the wall. He deserved to get whipped, and he did.” Whoa..
When Elvis was challenged to get vaccinated against polio on live TV in 1956, he readily agreed. Cambridge University historian Stephen Mawdsley explained: “The Salk vaccine against polio had just been produced and young children were being vaccinated in their millions. However, teenagers, who were also vulnerable to polio, were not taking up the vaccine. Elvis was approached to provide publicity aimed at teenagers and agreed to help to put things right.”
After Elvis got his shot, the polio vaccination rate practically skyrocketed in a matter of months.
On February 1, 1976, Elvis tasted this sandwich for the first time, and he was hooked. It's called the Fool's Gold Loaf and consists of two pieces of hollowed-out French white bread, creamy peanut butter, grape jelly, and fried bacon. While entertaining a few friends at his home, the sandwich came up in conversation, and Elvis started craving it, so he bought a bunch for himself and his guests, pairing them with Perrier and champagne. Now nicknamed the "Elvis sandwich," the Fool's Gold Loaf is made by the Colorado Mine Company, which is located in Denver, Colorado.
The singer reportedly couldn't stand the smell of fish, and he even forbade everyone, including his wife Priscilla, from eating it at Graceland. According to Alanna Nash's Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, his mom wasn't a big fan either. Alanna quoted Lamar Fike (a member of Elvis's inner circle) saying: "When Gladys was pregnant, the smell of fish made her sick. I guess she told him that, so he hated fish all his life."
He recorded hundreds of songs, but he didn't write any of them. However, he was still given co-writing credit on some of them because his label required that songwriters give up 50 percent credit before Presley could record the songs.
Freddy Bienstock, who was hired to present new demos for Elvis, said: "I knew what kind of songs Elvis liked and what I thought might capture his attention. It was either a terrific melody or a novelty kind of lyric idea like 'All Shook Up.' He knew exactly what he wanted to do. You couldn't talk Elvis into doing a song; he had to feel it. He knew what would work for him."
According to Charles Fairchild's Pop Idols and Pirates, it took Elvis a whopping 31 attempts to get the final product, and he eventually chose attempt #28. The most intriguing part, though, is that Elvis wasn't even a fan of the song. But according to Elvis' Golden Records, RCA recording executive Steve Sholes insisted that "it should be on wax since it had always caused such a sensation in his theater act." As for why it was so challenging to get the song just right, Elvis also had to deal with the fact that, just a day before the recording, he was forced to sing the song to an actual hound dog on the Steve Allen Show.
Considering his huge success, you'd think that the King of Rock and Roll would've toured internationally on several occasions. However, he did nearly all of his shows in The U.S. and only played three shows in Canada. It's widely believed that Elvis never got to tour in other countries because his manager, Colonel Parker, was an illegal alien and afraid to get deported. Even so, in 2015, it was discovered that Elvis was actually planning to travel to Japan and Britain shortly before he passed, which suggests he was probably going to do shows there.
According to Elvis' ex-girlfriend, Linda Thompson, he had a facelift when he was 40. He was going through a midlife crisis at the time and felt he needed to maintain a youthful image. In her memoir, A Little Thing Called Life, Linda wrote: "There has been speculation through the years that Elvis has his eyes done or some other mystery procedure, but that mini facelift was the extent of his plastic surgery."
By the time Elvis was divorced from Priscilla in 1973, his health was deteriorating, and he'd become an opioid addict. He overdosed on barbiturates twice in that year, and, after the first time, he was unconscious in his hotel for three days. After the second incident, he was semi-comatose from pethidine and sent to the hospital.
His primary doctor, George C. Nichopoulos, said: "He didn't see the wrong in it. He felt that by getting it from a doctor, he wasn't the common every day "junkie" getting something off the street. He was a person who thought that as far as medications and drugs went, there was something for everything."
The singer was used to having fans be so starstruck by him that they fainted, but that all changed by the late '60s. Elvis reportedly took a walk down a busy street in Los Angeles, and no one recognized him. At this point, he hadn't toured for a while, and several other famous musicians, including Queen and The Beatles, were dominating the music scene. This pushed him to relaunch his career with a comeback, which led to his live concert album, Elvis.
While Elvis was serving in the military, his mother got sick and was diagnosed with hepatitis. When her condition continued to get worse, Elvis went on emergency leave to visit her in August. Just two days after he arrived, however, she died due to heart failure. This took a huge toll on Elvis because he was always extremely close to Gladys. In fact, he sobbed uncontrollably during her funeral and said he “lived his whole life” for her.
Later in his career, Elvis was known for rocking his stylish high-collars, but there was another reason why he preferred this style. In A Little Thing Called Life, Linda revealed that he was really insecure about his neck because his parents teased him about it when he was a kid. So, to hide his "skinny little chicken neck," as she called it, he stuck with super high collars.
The film's director, Robert Wise, had Elvis as his first choice to play Tony, not Richard Beymer. However, Elvis' manager turned him down because Elvis would only be singing half of the songs and wouldn't have exclusive rights to the soundtrack. To be honest, a part of us is happy that it worked out this way. It's really hard to imagine Elvis as the character.
Elvis meant it when he mentioned that he could mold the young Priscilla into his ideal woman. Understandably, the process wasn’t all sunshine and roses for her.
She said: “I always had a little bit of makeup. He never wanted to see me getting dressed; he wanted to see the end result.” She also shared that he’d tag along on her shopping trips and choose clothes for her. She continued: “I didn’t have my teenage years as a normal girl, obviously, so I had to adapt. So I just kind of followed what he did.”
It's his only spoken word concert album, and it got released in 1974. However, you won't find this in stores because Elvis hated this album and requested to have it removed. Many listeners found his banter and remarks incoherent, and it didn’t feel like much of a rock and roll album, so it received several negative reviews. Though it’s considered his worst release, it did hit number 130 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot Country LPs.