True Elvis Story: Who Was Colonel Tom Parker?

It’s been almost a decade since Baz Luhrmann released a movie in theaters – his 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby – but the wait for a new movie from the Australian director is finally over thanks to Elvis.

An epic biopic of the king of rock ‘n’ roll, the film charts his subject’s rise from carnival singer to pop culture icon to Las Vegas performer, touching on various aspects of his life, including the influence of black music about his work, his romance with Priscilla Presley, and his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction.

Besides Elvis himself, one person who is constantly present throughout the film is Colonel Tom Parker – the King’s longtime manager who is played by Tom Hanks and turns out to be an extremely sleazy and manipulative figure who took advantage of the talents of his client more and more. unethical ways.

Speaking about why he chose to frame the film from Parker’s point of view, Luhrmann told RadioTimes.com that it was due to the modern relevance “of these guys who would be quite proud to narrate…I guess you call them lies.”

He added: “But really, big toxic positive lies – the carnival sale.

“Well, you put that next to Elvis, who is this incredibly vulnerable kid growing up in one of the few white houses in the black community – like Eminem.

“And it just seems to be talking about right now, the tension between the carnival sale, the peddling, the snake oil bit, and then the vulnerable and the pure and honest.”

But who exactly was the real Colonel Tom Parker? Read on for everything you need to know.

Who was Colonel Tom Parker?

Born in the Netherlands as Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk – the seventh child of a delivery driver and housewife – Parker first came to the United States as an illegal immigrant in 1929, when he was twenty years old.

Shortly after arriving, he created a whole new identity for himself, adopting the name Tom Parker and claiming to be born in the United States. During his first years in the country, he served two years in the US Army, but was discharged when he was certified as a psychopath by a psychiatrist.

He then embarked on a career as a carnival worker before moving into music promotion in 1938, with his pre-Elvis clients, including Gene Austin, a popular crooner, and a succession of country singers such as Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow and Tommy Sands.

He earned the title of colonel when he aided popular country and gospel singer Jimmie Davis in his campaign to be elected governor of Louisiana, receiving the honorary rank as Davis’ award in 1948.

Parker’s first encounter with Presley was in early 1955 after hearing his music on the radio and being impressed by his rather different singing style – initially assuming he was black.

At this time, Memphis radio personality Bob Neal was Presley’s manager, but he soon realized he was struggling to get enough time to promote his client. So after a meeting between Parker and Presley in February 1955, the Colonel began to take control. reservations and promotions.

For a time Parker and Neal worked together, with Parker becoming “special adviser” to Elvis in the summer of 1955 – which brought him the responsibility of securing a new recording contract with a bigger label.

Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley Getty

In March 1956 – when Presley’s existing contract with Neal expired – Parker became his sole representative and with a new recording contract from RCA Victor, Elvis’ career went from strength to strength, with his first single Heartbreak Hotel released to huge acclaim later that year.

During their partnership, Parker received more than half of Elvis’ earnings – and in turn, he negotiated various merchandising deals, television appearances and acting roles for his client, as well as advice on other areas of his life, including his decision to join the military. service in 1958 and to marry Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967.

It also pushed him to make musicals the main focus of his career in the 60s and to play a major role in his comeback in 1968 – and although their meetings were quite limited after that time he was still listed as Elvis’ manager until the star’s death in 1977.

Even after Presley’s death, Parker continued to manage his estate – but partly because he had sold the rights to all the early recordings, and partly because of a major gambling addiction – he struggled. to make ends meet.

His woes were compounded in 1980, when a judge found his management had been unethical, and it also emerged that Presley had lost millions of dollars in royalties for songs he had written due to of Parker’s decision not to enroll him in The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Ultimately, a deal between Elvis Presley Estate and Parker ended, with the latter receiving $2 million in exchange for any audio recordings or visual images of Presley he owned. and ending his involvement in any income related to Presley for five years.

In January 1997, at the age of 87, he died in Las Vegas after a long battle with various health issues, including diabetes and gout. His funeral was attended by Elvis’ widow, Priscilla, who delivered a eulogy in which she joked, “Elvis and the Colonel have made history together, and the world is richer, better, and much more interesting. Thanks to their cooperation And now I have to locate my wallet, because I noticed that there was no counter at the entrance, but I’m sure the colonel must have provided a toll at the exit . »

Elvis is out in UK cinemas today. Visit our Movies hub for the latest news and features, or find something to watch tonight with our TV guide.

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