Elvis Presley is known as the King of Rock and Roll, but in order to get that title he had to work hard. For his entire career, there was one man by his side, pushing him to do more and helping him achieve a level of fame that was unheard of at the time. However, that man is probably one of the most controversial characters in history.
Colonel Tom Parker signed on as Presley’s manager in 1956. Ever since, the mystery surrounding him has everyone wondering what the truth is. With so much controversy spanning so many years, it’s a lot to break down, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Let’s get started with the truth about where he came from.
Colonel Tom Andrew Parker claimed to have been born in Huntington, West Virginia. He said he worked with carnivals, helping out with elephants and even managed a palm-reading booth, before he realized his talents as a music promoter.
The problem was, if anyone had ever bothered to look into his past, they would find that there was no Tom Parker from West Virginia.
Parker hadn’t even been a Colonel in any military! While he had served in the U.S. Army, he never made it past the rank of private, and was actually released from the army after being diagnosed as a psychopath following a “psychotic breakdown” in the 1930s. When the draft of World War II came around, he allegedly ate so much that he ballooned up to 300 pounds so he would be considered unfit for service.
However the truth about his identity didn’t come out until after Presley’s death. The Colonel made it well into retirement before anyone realized that Parker wasn’t who he claimed to be.
It turned out that “Colonel Tom Parker” was actually not born in West Virgina, but actually was Andreas van Kuijk, born in the Netherlands.
It’s suspected that the Colonel was an illegal immigrant, and worked for a travelling carnival when he first arrived in the country.
However the rumors of his criminal past are even more terrifying than his secret identity…
Colonel Tom Parker has a reputation that few people would be able to handle. Not only did he have a secret identity, but there were actually rumors that Elvis’s manager was actually responsible for an unsolved murder back in his hometown.
The evidence is questionable, but even his family admits that there is a possibility that it’s true.
It started with an anonymous tip to a newspaper that said, “At last, I want to say what was told to me 19 years ago about this Colonel Parker. My mother-in-law said to me, if anything comes to light about this Parker, tell them that his name is Van Kuijk and that he murdered the wife of a greengrocer on the Bochstraat….This murder has never been solved. But look it up and you will discover that he, on that very night, left for America and adopted a different name. And that is why it is so mysterious. That’s why he does not want to be known.”
When the reporter who received the tip looked into this alleged murder, he discovered that there was in fact an unsolved murder that took place on the same date that Parker left the country. A 23-year-old newlywed named Anna van den Enden who was beaten to death in her living quarters in the back of her greengrocer’s on the Bochstraat.
It was reported that the body was discovered in a ransacked house, with pepper all around the body, which suggests the murderer was cautious about the police dogs picking up their scent.
Years later, Parker’s former assistant, Byron Raphael, would speak up about his temper. “In those fits of rage, he was a very dangerous man, and he certainly appeared capable of killing. He would be nice one second, and stare off like he was lost, and then–boom!–tremendous force. He’d just snap. You never saw it coming. Then five minutes later, he would be so gentle, telling a nice soft story.”
Parker has never been officially connected to the murder, even though many people believe he was responsible.
This wasn’t the only questionable thing he’s done either. He also had a questionable marriage shortly after his arrival in America…
While working on the carnival circuit, Parker met Marie Francis Mott. Mott had been married before and had a son who lived with her. What Parker didn’t know, was that his new partner had actually given up her second son for adoption because he was born with a disability.
It’s believed that Parker chose this family to marry into not because he was in love, but instead because becoming a part of a “ready-made” family would help him disguise his illegal status.
The issue is that people actually doubt the legality of their marriage. Parker claimed to have been married in Tampa, Florida in 1932, but when the marriage was investigated later, no records were found. The records were checked between 1927 to 1946, but nothing was there.
It is suspected that they performed a “carny wedding,” where the bride and groom declared themselves married without any legal authority.
They stayed together for a while, but in the 1960s, Mott started to display signs of dementia and Parker distanced himself from her.
After Mott died in 1986, Parker wed his long-time secretary Loanne Miller in 1990.
The couple’s choice of living in Las Vegas might have had to do with Parker’s consistent gambling issues, that had a huge impact on the man’s life…
Parker is suspected of having suffered from a nearly debilitating gambling addiction. It’s even thought that the reason why he got Presley to sign up for a residency at a Las Vegas hotel was to help cover the debt he had accumulated.
He was known to spend 12-14 hours a day gambling, betting huge amounts of money. When Elvis died, Parker apparently owed $30 million. He would play roulette for hours, with crowds of people watching him lose. One Las Vegas hotel manager once said “The Colonel was one of the best customers we had. He was good for a million dollars a year.”
By the time he passed away, Parker’s estate was worth about $1 million. While that may sound like a good chunk, he earned over $100 million in his lifetime and that was all that was left.
But all of this is nothing compared to his treatment of Elvis Presley…
He has been called a con artist so many times that the words have basically lost all meaning.
The Colonel first learned of Elvis in 1955, but at the time his manager was the guitarist in the band who was just trying to protect him from music promoters who would take advantage of him. Shortly after, Presley was signed to Sun Records with Sam Phillips as his manager.
The problem was that Presley’s fame was growing too quickly, and it was getting harder for Phillips to keep him at his record label. It was then that Parker came into the picture. He started helping out with the booking and promotions of the young star’s performances, but quickly it evolved into something more.
When Phillips admitted he wanted out, he said that he would let Presley leave the contract for a $40,000 buy out. Obviously at the time, this was considered a huge amount of money and it was hard to find a buyer.
Parker stepped up, and tried to find the money, but it wasn’t easy. Eventually he convinced RCA to buy out the contract and successfully nabbed the management position for himself. He made it very clear to the people around him that Elvis Presley wasn’t signed to RCA, instead Presley was signed to the Colonel.
Honestly, the corruption just kept getting worse. His treatment of Elvis throughout his career was something that people still talk about to this day…
in 1956, Elvis became a star with his first single “Heartbreak Hotel,” and Parker was able to secure Presley with fees that made him the highest-paid star on television.
Shortly after, he decided to turn Elvis Presley into a brand name. Suddenly the singer went from being almost unknown to having over 75 different products with his face on them. Everything from charm bracelets to record players were created, and brought in $22 million by the end of 1956. Parker had contracted the items in a way that got him 25 of the profits.
He even took advantage of the people who hated Elvis, creating “I Hate Elvis” badges that he sold to all the people who weren’t a fan. Literally no stone was left unturned.
Presley had wanted to make movies since he started, but when Parker finally got him a movie deal, he had some interesting demands. While Presley wanted to be a serious actor, Parker consistently persuaded him into singing in each and every movie.
He convinced Elvis to join the army
Parker was thrilled when Elvis was drafted to the army, hoping it would help challenge the rebellious nature of the singer. He convinced Presley to sign up as a regular soldier even though Presley wanted to join Special Services. Parker said that it would give ammunition to those who were criticizing him.
He used everything as a media stunt, including Presley’s induction day and the day Elvis received his Army haircut. Parker and RCA worked to keep Elvis relevant while he was abroad, and released several new songs over the two years he was gone. Parker was invited to visit Elvis in Germany, but he refused to leave the country. Looking back, it’s assumed that it was because of his illegal status, but at the time they didn’t know that. However the entire time Elvis was away, Parker was worried that he would realize that his contract that allowed him to receive his 25 commission would be revealed as excessive.
He didn’t care about the quality of the movies
No matter how much Elvis complained about the movies he was forced into making, Parker refused to do anything because they made money.
When Elvis’s earnings started to waver, Parker sent Presley’s Cadillac on tour, selling it to RCA for $24,000 to promote the latest film.
In 1967, Parker renegotiated his contract with Presley, increasing his commission from 25 to 50 of Elvis’s earnings. His argument was that now that he only had time for the one client, he was only earning one fee.
Parker convinced Elvis to get married
After seeing the publicity that came out of Frank Sinatra’s marriage to Mia Farrow, Parker thought that it was time for Presley to bring his private relationship with Prescilla Beaulieu out of the shadows. Even though she was ten years younger than him, they hoped that the wedding would draw enough attention to spark his career.
Every time that Presley signed a better deal, Parker would find a way to improve it for himself. When Elvis increased his wage for his 1972 Las Vegas residency, Parker managed to secure himself a $50,000 bonus as a “consultant to the hotel chain.”
The near end of their relationship
Parker and Presley’s relationship came to an end in the 70s because of Elvis’s prescription drug use. It’s thought that Parker either didn’t know how to help, or just didn’t want to cause negative publicity that would limit Elvis’s earning potential. They almost stopped working together in 1973 when Parker quit, but he then demanded a $2 million buy out to get out of the contract.
After two weeks they put it behind them, when Presley’s father claimed that Elvis didn’t have the money to buy him out.
Career-long ban on touring abroad
Because Parker refused to travel out of America, that meant Elvis wasn’t allowed to leave the country to perform. He only ever performed in three venues outside of America, and all of them were in Canada.
It’s thought that the only reason Elvis could come to Canada was because at the time you didn’t need a passport to cross the US-Canada border. Because Parker was an illegal citizen, he wasn’t able to obtain a passport, making it impossible for him to travel with his client.
After Elvis died, Parker refused to let up. There are rumors that he had little to no reaction when he heard the news, as well as others where he said “Why, I’ll go right on managing him!”
He anticipated a huge increase of interest in the singer, and apparently headed to Graceland for the funeral wearing a Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap.
At the funeral, he didn’t take even a moment to grieve his client. Instead, he convinced Presley’s father to sign over the control of Elvis’s career.
In Presley’s death, Parker still managed to hold onto his 50 control over the singer’s estate. Parker had managed to create a company with Elvis before he passed that was responsible for the merchandising rights, but the Colonel was the controlling partner. Presley’s family sued the manager, claiming that his actions cost the Presley family millions in unearned income.
Whether you consider him the ultimate conman, or a marketing genius, Colonel Tom Parker made a mark on the entertainment industry. Did you realize that he was such a controversial figure in Elvis Presley’s life?