The Dark Truth Behind Elvis

It's been roughly 40 years since Elvis Presley's death, so you'd think everybody would know everything about the King by now: his loved his mama, he loved weird food, he died on the toilet, and as an aside, sang some of the greatest songs of all time. But there's a lot more about Elvis that often goes unreported, and much of casts him in a less-than-flattering light. Which is probably why you never hear about it.

He never wrote anything, and barely played the guitar

Nobody sees Elvis as a Dylan-esque songwriting genius, but you'd be shocked to know he literally wrote nothing. Despite being credited on ten songs as a co-writer, Elvis never contributed anything past the odd title here and there (he apparently thought of the phrase "all shook up" after a bad dream, and then somebody else turned that into a song. The "co-writer" credits were simply there for publicity, and the man himself admitted as much.

In a 1957 interview for Dig magazine, Elvis confessed "I never wrote a song in my life. ... I've never even had an idea for a song." In that same interview, he also told the world that, despite walking around with a guitar and strumming it during it during concert, he couldn't actually play. To him, it was simply a "brace," not to mention a good-looking prop that made him look more competent and musical than he really was. Oh, the things you could get away with before the Internet.

He and his manager cheated their way to royalties

The reason Presley has any songwriting credits at all is because of business-side strong-arming by his notorious manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Presley had a special arrangement with music publishers, but when he wanted to record a song by an outsider, Parker would demand a third of songwriter royalties for his client. "He would get a piece of the action. Colonel Tom Parker made sure of that," songwriter David Hess told American Songwriter. "To have a potential No. 1 hit staring you in the face made the pain of getting screwed a little less painful." For example, Presley is a listed contributor to "Don't Be Cruel" of which he didn't write a word or a note.

One songwriter who resisted exploitation: Dolly Parton. In 1974, she released "I Will Always Love You," which eventually became a cash cow when Whitney Houston covered it for The Bodyguard in 1992. The soundtrack album sold 12 million copies, providing a nice payday for the country legend. Back in the '70s, Presley wanted to cover it, but on the condition Parton sign away half the royalties. "I said, 'Well, now it's already been a hit. I wrote it and I've already published it. And this is the stuff I'm leaving for my family, when I'm dead and gone,'" Parton told the Belfast Telegraph (via No deal from Dolly meant no Presley version of "I Will Always Love You."

He was a gun nut

Elvis loved shooting things almost as much as Elmer Fudd did. He was a humongous gun nut, and collected enough of them to fund his own militia. By the time he died in 1977, he owned more than 40 guns, including rifles and even a machine gun. Just in case the guys from "Jailhouse Rock" broke out and went on a rampage, apparently. By the '70s, he had grown paranoid enough to bring guns with him on stage, though thankfully never the machine gun. Instead, he would stuff one into a boot, two small guns into his boots, just in case someone in the crowd got too rowdy, apparently. 

To Elvis' credit, he had a concealed-carry permit. To his lack of credit, he evidently saw them as mere toys. As recounted in Over the Top and Back, his autobiography, singer Tom Jones once visited Elvis' dressing room, only to find a loaded Colt .45 automatic pistol just lying there in the King's bathroom. He wrapped it in a towel and gingerly gave it to Elvis, who nonchalantly responded with his classic catchphrase: "Thank you very much."

He regularly impersonated police officers

As just about everybody knows, it's illegal to impersonate a cop outside of costume parties. It's DEFINITELY illegal to pull people over and pretend to give out tickets. But Elvis did both, and quite regularly, too. He loved the police and law enforcement, but was too busy being a rock star to become an actual cop (either that, or he was simply unwilling to give up peanut butter and nanner sandwiches to properly train). So instead, according to Priscilla Presley in her book Elvis, By The Presleys, he would slap a police siren on his car, don one of the many fake badges he had accumulated over the years, pull speeders over, and tell them something like, "son, you were speeding. Just want to warn you to slow down." And then, he would give them a ticket that was actually an autograph, not that that made pulling people over under the guise of "I am the law" any less wrong. If only he had spent less time cosplaying as Barney Fife, and more time learning to play guitar and write music.

He fancied extremely young girls

Simply put, Elvis preferred his women to be girls. Girls who were way too young. According to Alanna Nash's book Baby, Let's Play House: Elvis And His Women, Presley was shockingly insecure about his sexuality, manhood, and self-worth. So he often found himself intimidated by older women, who might judge him for the Mama's-boy man-child he basically was. To get around that, he almost exclusively dated young girls, who were too naive and inexperienced in life to realize their famous lover's many, many flaws. Of his many sexual partners, the vast majority were no older than 15, which even in Elvis' time was incredibly illegal. Not that he cared. It's possible (if unlikely) that he himself was too naive to realize what he was doing. This is a man who once asked the mother of a 14-year-old girl he liked if she could move to Graceland with him. As he reasoned, "I just want to raise her. ... I want her there as my wife." No, nothing creepy about that at all!

He was obsessed with James Dean

As you've probably gathered by now, when Elvis liked something (young teens, guns, the police) he really liked it. Add actor James Dean to that list, a man Elvis was apparently quite obsessed with. Basically, Elvis wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, but Colonel Tom Parker wouldn't allow him to walk away from silly, profitable movies like Tickle Me, Fun in Acapulco, and Kissin' Cousins. Nevertheless, Presley clearly had designs on being a Dean-like figure ... or maybe just Dean himself. According to Allyson Adams book The Rebel and the King, Presley memorized the entirety of Dean's opus, Rebel Without a Cause, and even dated that film's female lead, Natalie Wood. But alas, dating Dean's costar did not imbue Elvis with Dean's prodigious acting abilities.

Sadly, before these powers could take root in Presley's DNA, Elvis' mother went all mama grizzly on Wood and scared her away, according to Wood's sister in her memoir. It's like she wanted her son to make Girl Happy II: Girl Happier.

His manager forced the 'womanizer' image on him for profit

Elvis might have dated countless girls, but it was at least partially because his manager wanted him to. Colonel Tom Parker was tireless in marketing Elvis as the ultimate ladies man, and the idea that Elvis might finally find The One was a nightmarish thought, indeed. Parker's control over Elvis' love life was never more evident than in 1956, when Elvis's girlfriend, June Juanico, told reporters she was his steady. Immediately, Parker sought to squash the news, having Elvis "confess" to a reporter from the Miami Daily News, "I got about 25 girls I date regular." Don't worry, ladies, Elvis wants you to know there's still hope. You too can be one of the 25, but you have to buy a ticket to his show if you want a shot!

We're guessing Elvis' fetish for illegal barely-teen sex didn't exactly tickle Parker's fancy, but if it meant his charge wasn't destroying his career with monogamy, he was likely willing to look the other way. After all, the more money he made, the easier it would be to bail the King out if the law ever decided to treat him like a regular person.

Elvis has left the building (via the bathroom)

We all want to shed this mortal coil in a sweet and dignified way. After telling our gathered loved ones how much they mean to us, we'll say something profound about the nature of life, take our final breath, and leave a serene corpse. Elvis Presley changed music forever, but fate didn't allow him a death worthy of his stature. In August 1977, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, at the very young age of 42, died alone in the middle of the night at his Graceland estate ... in the bathroom. His heart stopped while he sat on the toilet, and he keeled over with his pants around his ankles. Not exactly a hero's death.

Did the King "push" too hard? Not necessarily. According to the New York Times, the local county medical examiner attributed Presley's death to an irregular heartbeat related to hypertension and high blood pressure. A toxicology report also found a Valley of the Dolls-meets-Studio 54 variety and volume of drugs in Presley's bloodstream, including codeine, quaaludes, a couple of prescription sedatives, a barbiturate, morphine, and the painkiller Demerol. In 1980, Presley's Doctor Feelgood of choice, George "Dr. Nick Nichopoulos," faced a 14-count indictment for overprescribing drugs to Presley and other celebrities. He was ultimately acquitted, but later lost his license to practice medicine in Tennessee.

He had a big love for big food

Elvis Presley had huge appetites — for women, sure, but also for food. In 1960, James Gregory wrote The Elvis Presley Story (via the Independent) which details the Southern boy's penchant for gigantic, heart-stopping Southern-style breakfasts. "Elvis loves enormous breakfasts complete with sausage, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, home-baked rolls, and coffee." In 1981, Presley's uncle, Vester Presley, and a Graceland cook named Nancy Rooks, published The Presley Family Cookbook, which featured some of the King's purported favorite foods, like fried squirrel and something called "Pepsi-Cola salad."

In the 1995 BBC special The Burger and the King, longtime Graceland cook Mary Jenkins discussed Presley's eating habits, particularly his fondness for butter-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and how she once snuck Presley a bag of forbidden hot dogs when he was hospitalized. "The only thing I get any enjoyment out of is eating," Jenkins said Presley once told her.

But back to peanut butter sandwiches because probably nobody loved them more than Elvis. In the '70s, he discovered Denver restaurant the Colorado Mining Company and their ridiculously over-the-top food challenge: the Fool's Gold. It consisted of a loaf of bread slathered with a jar of jam, a jar of peanut butter, and a pound of bacon. Elvis took the challenge twice.

His weight loss attempts were more dangerous than his eating habits

As Elvis did everything to the extreme — womanizing, pill-taking, gunning, eating — he also dieted with little to no concern for his personal well-being. As much as the King binge-ate, he felt guilty and upset about packing on the pounds he so famously added to his sparkly jumpsuit-covered frame in the 1970s. And so, he engaged in some of the era's many ill-advised weight loss schemes.

According to the Independent, Presley once became convinced he could quickly shed some extra weight by eating nothing but a jelly made out of bananas and black cherry soda (his favorite beverage). He tried it for weeks, but it didn't bring long-term weight loss. He also tried something called "the sleeping beauty diet," in which people have a doctor place them in a medically induced coma. How it works: While they sleep, the body wastes away, living off itself to stay alive. Presley's pursuit reportedly ended when he fell out of a hospital bed and roused himself from his coma.

He brought his own fork, thank you very much

While Elvis Presley played pretty fast and loose with what he was willing to consume — if it had peanut butter on it or was fried in butter, he was down — he was quite terrified of getting sick or dying from ingesting things he couldn't see. The King was a big time germaphobe. This wasn't widely known until his former wife, Priscilla Presley, revealed it on an episode of the U.K. chat-fest The Jonathan Ross Show in 2015. Presley hated eating outside his home — particularly at other's people's houses — because he didn't know where the host's cutlery had been. "He never liked to go to people's homes to eat because [he] didn't like eating with other people's silverware, so he would take his own silverware," Priscilla Presley said. "And he didn't like drinking out of cups that other people had drunk out of, even restaurants or other homes. So when he drank, he would drink where the handle was, knowing that no one would ever drink at that side."

While the former Mrs. King said people "didn't really pick up on" her husband's behaviors, they'd gone on for years, even before he became a huge celebrity. "I think he just didn't like to put his mouth where other people put their mouth, with silverware, things that you put in your mouth," she added.

He monkeyed around

Why even be rich and famous at all if you don't blow your money on something preposterous that would never even occur to someone of lesser means or stature? To that end, Elvis Presley blew money on the kinds of things one usually sees on MTV's Cribs — houses, cars, etc. But how many early 2000s rappers had a pet chimp?

Memphis TV host Bill Killebrew employed a chimpanzee named Scatter, who he'd taught all kinds of tricks. Their favorite bit: driving around Memphis. Killebrew would lay low in the driver's seat and work the pedals while Scatter steered, shocking anyone who had never seen a chip drive a car before. Somehow, Killebrew got bored with Scatter after about a year, and, as one does, approached Elvis about taking the chimp off his hands.

"I guess he figured Graceland was the kind of untamed place where a monkey would feel at home," longtime Presley associate Alan Fortas told Elvis Australia. But party central wasn't the most positive environment for a young chimp, who indulged in all of his worst impulses — how Elvis would reportedly laugh when Scatter approached female guests and lifted up their skirts, or when Scatter would knock back a beer or some whiskey, or when Scatter would tear up the curtains and throw his poop around.

Things got dark when he joined the Army

In 1957, at his career peak, Elvis Presley briefly disappeared. The reason: He got drafted into the United States' peacetime standing army. He shipped out in March 1958 with an armored division stationed in Germany, working as a truck driver (a job he'd had before he became a rock star). When the base grew inundated with fan mail and aggressive local women trying to scale its walls, he got a transfer to a scout platoon.

Presley returned to the U.S. less than six months later when his beloved mother, Gladys Presley, passed away. Deeply upset by the loss, Presley reportedly worked through his grief via self-destructive behavior. When he returned to Germany after the funeral, he partied like there was no tomorrow, and during a trip to Munich he got into a nasty bar fight. On a trip to Paris, he took some soldiers to a strip club and brought the strippers back to their hotel. It was also during this time when Presley reportedly started a daily amphetamine habit, the start of a pill addiction that would eventually hasten his demise.