Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been the Beatles.
-- John Lennon
Elvis Aaron Presley is not only my hero he was a superhero! Not to mention his good looks, gorgeous voice, and his level head in spite of the fame; Elvis acted in 31 full feature films, served his country in the military, helped bring racial integration, was an eighth degree black belt in Karate and a secret agent for the United States government. Eat your heart out, James Bond.
He started his life as a poor southern boy from Tupelo, Mississippi and rose to become one of the largest personalities of the 20th century. His influence on music is more profound than anyone can rationally comprehend. Buddy Holly, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Paul Simon, Elton John, Isaac Hayes, Huey Lewis, Bono and countless more cite Elvis as their inspiration. There is no doubt that Elvis will live on in legend and lore for many years to come.
Every great superhero has an origin. Elvis's beginnings were pretty humble. He was born on January 8, 1935 and grew up in poverty. His father, Vernon Elvis Presley, had a hard time holding down a job and occasionally had run-ins with the law. They moved to Memphis, Tennessee when Elvis was thirteen because of one such run-in. Despite his impoverished upbringing, Elvis grew up to have a deep respect for people because of the influence of his mother, Gladys Love (Smith) Presley. Though they didn't have much, his mother taught him to appreciate the things they did have as well as the good manners of a southern gentleman.
There was something just bordering on rudeness about Elvis. He never actually did anything rude, but he always seemed as if he was just going to. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate him eleven.
-- Sammy Davis Jr.
Nearly everyone who came in contact with Elvis said he was one of the nicest people they ever met. Though he was a superstar in two professions, music and film, industries known for their divas and prima donnas, Elvis was always polite and cordial. He never forgot his modest beginnings and tried to help anyone and everyone he could. He was known for giving away Cadillacs but most of Elvis's philanthropy went unheralded; he didn't do it for the headlines, he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do. Elvis always fancied himself as a white hat.
As a boy he would read comic books and imagined himself as the hero. Every kid that reads comic books has his favorite hero (mine is Spidey). Elvis's was Captain Marvel, Jr. It was common for children and teens who read comics to bring the morals taught by the Comics Code with them into adulthood. This was certainly true when it came to Elvis. He had a great respect for law enforcement, religion, charities, and the other do-gooders of the world. Likewise, he loathed the evildoers; racists, con artists, drug dealers, the mafia, etc. Also, it would seem Captain Marvel, Jr. influenced the way Elvis dressed, with high collar capes, jumpsuits, and big boots. It is fascinating to compare pictures of the 1940s comic book hero with those of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
He was an integrator, Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let black music through. He opened the door for black music.
-- Little Richard
Elvis's unique style of music, combining white country and gospel music, black Rhythm & Blues and gospel, and white pop music, coupled with his odd manner of dress, his hairstyle and sideburns, struck something in the hearts of teenagers of the time. In January of 1956, only two years after he had begun pursuing a singing career, Elvis became insanely popular with the release of Heartbreak Hotel. The single sold 300,000 copies in its first few weeks and quickly became a number one hit.
For the first time, people in cities were listening to the same song as people in the country; whites were listening to the same song as blacks. The social barriers in the nation seemed to melt away where Rock 'n' Roll was concerned. Though racial integration had a long fight ahead, Elvis took this first step in helping people realize their common links through music. Throughout 1956, Elvis continued to release four more number one hits and two number one albums. He made an extraordinary amount of television, radio, and public appearances and acted in his first blockbuster movie, Love Me Tender. His sudden rise to superstardom was historically unprecedented.
At the end of 1957, with his career in full swing, Elvis was drafted into the US Army. Though his fans and management were upset, Elvis was anxious for the opportunity to serve his country and on March 24, 1958 he reported for service. The Army has Special Services for celebrities. They told Elvis he could sing and make television appearances for the Army during his time but he turned it down. He didn't want any special treatment. He served as a normal soldier and was assigned to a tank battalion as a gunner. Elvis liked guns, and the gun on a M4 Sherman was about as big as they came.
He was shipped off to Germany and was looking forward to a break from his fame. But much to his dismay, he found two thousand screaming fans had shown up to meet his ship at port. Some people, including Elvis, believed that spending the two years in the Army, outside the public arena, would end his career. However, Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, kept him on the charts by slowly putting out unreleased recordings over the two years. He was discharged on March 5, 1960 at the rank of sergeant.
While in Germany, Elvis became interested in Karate. His first teacher was a German shotokan stylist. Elvis became so fascinated with martial arts he would spend his leave in Paris training under one of the top Japanese shotokan stylists, Tetsugio Murakami. Once he was discharged and moved back to the States, Elvis started to train under Ed Parker. Though Parker thought Elvis was a talented student, he was afraid to test him for his black belt. Back then, it really meant something. Parker didn't want to be known of as the guy who just handed Elvis a black belt. So he arranged for Elvis to be tried and tested by his sensei, Sergeant Major Hank Slomanski, a hard ass jumpmaster for the 101st Airborne who is thought to be the first authentic North American martial arts master. No one would question Slomanski; if he thought Elvis was good enough, it meant he was good enough.
Elvis traveled to Fort Campbell, Kentucky to train with the rangers. He was the only non-active military who trained with Slomanski in these after-hours sessions, and only the toughest rangers turned out. For his first trial, Slomanski wanted to judge how Elvis would react to a beating. He set his best student, a fourth degree black belt, in a match against Elvis, instructing him to avoid the face but to be as brutal to his body as he could. Despite his obvious pain, Elvis kept getting back up, and Slomanski had to get between the two to stop the fight. He later commented, "I found out what I wanted to know. The kid was a fighter, not a quitter." After six weeks of training, Elvis became one of the very few civilians to receive a black belt from Hank Slomanski. Though some question the authenticity of Elvis's later degrees, particularly his eighth, he unquestionably earned this first one.
Like his influence on music, no one can possibly know how much Elvis affected the popularity of martial arts in the west. Only a few years after Japanese interment and the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Elvis exposed a lot of people to positive aspects of the east including the culture as well as the fighting styles. Martial arts were a major part of his life and he talked about it as much as he could, weather with friends or on stage at a concert. Sometimes he would comment that if it weren't for his music career he would have like to have studied Karate full time.
Takin' care of business in a flash.
-- Elvis Presley
Throughout the years Elvis would train and spar with member of the Memphis Mafia, the nickname for Elvis's entourage. This group of extremely loyal associates acted as Elvis's bodyguards but were also his confidants and closest friends. They went everywhere with him and were truly a force to be reckoned with. Along with their martial arts training, they were constantly packing. In fact, when Elvis met with President Nixon to become a Special Agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Memphis Mafia were a little put out that they couldn't bring their guns into the White House.
Elvis had strong feelings about the moral break down of society in the '60s and '70s, particularly drug culture. In 1970 he had an opportunity to express his concerns to President Nixon who in turn deputized him as a Federal Agent at large, asking him to keep it a secrete in order to retrain his credibility as an entertainer.
Elvis and the Memphis Mafia were very secretive; they had a secret oath and never spoke of the privet affairs of Elvis or the activities of the group. Whenever someone outside this exclusive group asked them what they were up to Elvis would reply, "Takin' care of business." Nonetheless, for what is known about them, it's surprising how much they resemble a comic book crime fighting team. Could his business have been fighting crime on the streets of Las Vegas?
They operated under the name TCB, which stood for Takin' Care of Business. The TCB Band really had nothing to do with this enigmatic group other than sharing Elvis's catch phrase. The band was simply the public front for TCB, the musicians that played for Elvis's performances. Though they were all friends, the TCB Band was not included in the Memphis Mafia inner circle.
Each member, including Elvis, wore secret bracelets engraved with their names, the letters TCB, and a lightning bolt reminiscent of the crest on Captain Marvel, Jr.'s costume. Elvis would also etch the letters and lightning bolt into the stocks and grips of his guns. They would generally keep the night hours, waking up at five in the afternoon and retiring at eight in the morning. This not only accommodated Elvis's evening performances, it allowed them to be on the streets at night, searching for the criminal element perhaps.
If life was fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.
-- Johnny Carson
This write-up was an original idea written for tes's heroes quest, and while researching, I was amazed to find an abundance of legend that revolved around the King. For starters, he is by far the most impersonated individual ever, to the point that it is a subculture. And needless to say, there is a massive amount of people who believe Elvis faked his own death. Even more surreal, some people claim he was a holy templar, where others take it so far as to worship him as a god. Whether Elvis has permanently left the building or is currently rooming with JFK in East Texas, his impact on the world is utterly undeniable. Though it is entirely possible Elvis was not the Avenger of Las Vegas, he can be admired for so many of his qualities.