Elvis film: Lies and murder – The shocking reason why devastated King never left the US

ELVIS: Official second trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s movie

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Elvis was the biggest star in the world and throughout his career he was desperate to travel and tour overseas. Yet he only ever went to Germany on military service from 1958-1960, and occasional trips to Hawaii later in his career. At the June 9, 1972 press conference for his Madison Square Garden concerts, he confessed his two biggest dreams were to make non-musical movies to show his acting abilities and to travel and tour overseas. He had major opportunities to do both (including an invitation from The Queen to perform in London) but one man constantly stood in the way – his manager Colonel Parker. A man who lied about his nationality and military service, was reputedly a murder suspect – and who died working at a casino to feed a gambling habit which had stripped away his $100million fortune. Even Baz Luhrmann calls him a “sociopath.”

Dick Clark, the American Bandstand host, once said: “Parker’s handling of the man was as bad or worse than his management of Elvis’ business affairs. He kept him in a cage like an animal. He trotted him out like a trained bear.”

That cage has been blamed for The King’s swift decline in the mid-1970s, with even Priscilla Presley saying that Elvis’ compulsive binge-eating and addictions had often been triggered by his professional unhappiness – starting with the endless string of unfulfilling, increasingly repetitive movie musicals (sometimes three a year) Parker forced him to keep churning out through the 1960s.

There’s a famous picture from one film set of Elvis pointing a gun at Parker, but countless friends, family members and commentators have described how it was the manger constantly holding a gun to his client and cash-cow’s head.

Elvis was famously approached by Barbra Streisand in 1974 for A Star Is Born. Parker sank the negotiations with outrageous contract and payment demands.

Similarly, a request from Buckingham Palace to appear at the Royal Variety Show was stalled by Parker, along with constant overseas concert and tour offers.

Parker’s usual argument was that home tours had far lower overheads. Elvis was in constant need of money, with his out of control spending habits (including extraordinary generosity to friends and even strangers for whom he might impulsively a car). 

Yet even this was also rooted in his relationship with Parker. By the end of the The King’s life, he was splitting all revenues 50% with his manager – when industry standards were 10%. Their deal had been renegotiated in 1967 when Elvis was recovering from a nasty fall and head injury.

It’s undeniable that it was Parker who catapulted Elvis from local sensation in the South to a national and then global superstar.

Parker heard Elvis and his band The Blue Moon Boys in 1955 and knew there was something special there. He was soon getting the band gigs and working alongside their manager, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. Parker eventually paid $35,000 for Elvis’ contract and swiftly started a bidding war with national record labels. He chose RCA because he had existing relationships there he could use to exert influence. 

Parker was a born hustler, who told everyone he was born in the Appalachian mountains. In fact, his real name was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, a Dutch carnival and docks worker born in Breda in 1909. He had an act that forced chickens to ‘dance’ on a red hot plate.

He had mysteriously disappeared overnight on May 17, 1929, leaving behind all his belongings, including expensive clothes and ID papers and money. The same evening, a local woman, Anna an den Enden, was brutally killed at the greengrocers on the street where the ‘Parker’s’ family lived.

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The crime has never been solved, but Parker suspiciously completely erased his history and had no contact with his family for years.

It has always been thought that a primary reason Elvis never toured was that Parker also knew his illegal alien status would be discovered if he left and tried to re-enter the US.

And he certainly never did anything that would not guarantee the highest financial return. He demanded the staggering $1million fee per movie that also guaranteed his only huge cut.

Parker also reportedly insisted any venue promoters who wanted to book Elvis should bring $50k to the first meeting, with ten percent non-refundable even if the concert was never booked. Media were charged $25k for brief informal chats with Elvis and $100k for a long interview.

As for the (fake) Southern drawl and military title, Parker helped Jimmie Davis become Governor of Louisiana in 1944 and received the honorary rank of colonel in the Louisiana State Militia. He also dodged the World War II draft by piling on so much weight he became ineligible.

Parker and Elvis’ symbiotic relationship became increasingly strained in later years. Despite his unhappiness with the movies and music release choices, the star only rarely stood his ground – most notably overruling his manager to insist on bold and exciting song choices for his 1968 TV comeback special.

It wasn’t enough. Losing projects like A Star Is Born (and watching it triumph at the Oscars) combined with a gruelling touring regime as half his earnings poured away to Parker all took their toll, fuelled by an excessive cocktail of prescription medication.

Elvis died on August 16, 1977. At the time it was reported Parker owed the Las Vegas Hilton over $30million ($135million today) in gambling debts. He continued to manage Elvis’ estate but had sold the rights to the lucrative early recordings. 

Parker died in Vegas on January 21, 1997, aged 87. His funeral was held at the Las Vegas Hilton and Priscilla said in his eulogy: “Elvis and the Colonel made history together, and the world is richer, better and far more interesting because of their collaboration. And now I need to locate my wallet, because I noticed there was no ticket booth on the way in here, but I’m sure that the Colonel must have arranged for some toll on the way out.”

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