In addition to nabbing the title of "the King of Rock and Roll" with songs like "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "He Touched Me," Elvis Presley stole many hearts. But a closer look at his life beyond the music and swinging hips reveals that he was just as much the king of exploiting teenagers for sex and treating women like shit.
Elvis was born January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, but moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his family 13 years later. He was said to love singing in church, but his professional music career didn't start until 1954, when he signed with Sun Records; before that, he'd been a truck driver.
Two years later, he was wildly famous. "Heartbreak Hotel," his first number-one hit, was released in January 1956, and he quickly became a star with seemingly infinite potential before him. The man was everywhere, and always with a swarm of screaming fans around to greet him. But while on tour, Elvis's main focus wasn't "taking care of business." Instead, it seemed like he cared more about exploiting the admiration of underage girls.
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In his book Elvis Presley: A Southern Life, Joel Williamson writes about Elvis's life on the road, including his time spent with teenagers. Williamson writes that while on tour, Elvis preyed on a group of three 14-year-old girls who would pillow fight, tickle, wrestle, and kiss Elvis, who was 22 at the time.
Williamson also details an incident in which Elvis slept with a fan while he was in Louisiana performing weekly on the Louisiana Hayride show in 1954. The condom broke while the act. Not knowing what to do, Elvis asked his friends on tour how he should proceed, but they had no helpful advice. In the morning, Elvis informed his friends that he brought the girl to the emergency room and left her there to get a douche. All the while, he was obsessively calling his 15-year-old girlfriend, Dixie Locke, whom he loved to dress in clothes of his own choosing.
Eventually, Elvis found himself a 14-year-old he could get to commit to him. The King's first and only wife, Priscilla, met him in 1959 while 24-year-old Elvis was serving in the military in Germany. The two dated for six months before he returned to the US. In her memoir Elvis and Me, Priscilla writes that Elvis did everything short of penetrative sex with her the first night they spent together and until they were married. "It was as if Priscilla's virginity was another thing that Elvis strangely and sorely needed to maintain," Williamson notes in his book.
But the claims that Elvis and Priscilla did not have penetrative sex until their wedding night are disputed, particularly by Suzanne Finstad, author of the Priscilla Presley biography Child Bride: The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley. After their marriage (the two eventually tied the knot in 1967), Elvis would bring other women into their bedroom; he would watch and film his wife with them, sometimes also joining in—whether Priscilla was into this is undocumented. According to Williamson, he also installed a two-way mirror in his Palm Springs home with Priscilla so that he could secretly spy on couples having sex during lavish parties with showgirls he would throw there.
When Priscilla gave birth to the couple's only child, Lisa Marie, in 1968 Elvis all but stopped having sex with her, according to journalist Alanna Nash's book, Baby Let's Play House: Elvis and the Women Who Loved Him. Priscilla wrote in her memoir that Elvis "had mentioned to me before we were married that he had never been able to make love to a woman who had a child."
Priscilla eventually cheated on Elvis, and according to her book, she told him of the affair. She writes that Elvis grabbed her and "forcefully made love" to her, saying, "This is how a real man makes love to his woman." The duo separated in 1972 and divorced a year later. Two years after that, Elvis went after yet another 14-year-old girl by the name of Reeca Smith. According to Nash, Smith claims Elvis did not "take advantage of her" during their six-month relationship.
His health deteriorating, Elvis couldn't help falling in love once again, this time with a 21-year-old former beauty queen named Ginger Alden. The two got engaged and lived together in Graceland, where Elvis's behavior worsened.
In her memoir, Elvis & Ginger, Alden writes about Elvis's abuse, some of which involved the guns he kept in the house. Alden recounts a story in which Elvis, a compulsive eater at the time, was on a yogurt craze and asked her to bring him more yogurt. "I don't think you need any more yogurt," Alden says she told him. They both fell asleep, and Alden woke up to the sound of Elvis firing a 57 Magnum pistol off in their bedroom. The bullet hit just above their headboard; Elvis called it "an attention getter." Alden also writes in her memoir that he once fired a gun at the TV and, in another incident, ran out of the house brandishing a machine gun because he had seen a boy with a toy gun chasing Lisa Marie.
Elvis's career, and ultimately, his life, ended with drug abuse, which made him incontinent to the point that he was having to wear diapers, according to Albert Goldman's 1981 biography. In 1977, at the age of 42, he died while wearing gold silk pajamas on a toilet in Graceland, where Alden found his body. Despite his sexual pursuit of children, physical abuse, and dangerous, emotionally driven decisions, fans still insist he was a God-fearing Southern gentleman led astray by drugs. People also still want to believe he's really still alive and camped out in a cave somewhere. Neither notion seems particularly true.