The Dark Side Of Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, so you'd think everybody would know everything about the King by now: He loved his mama (maybe a little too much), 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 it casts him in a less-than-flattering light. 

Animal lovers might be disappointed to discover the King owned his own chimpanzee. His "womanizer" image went a little too far and began to impact his personal relationships. And much to the dismay of fans all over the world that idolized his hair, Elvis was actually a natural-born blonde that dyed his locks for that slick, Greese-lightning style look. From weird obsessions to eyebrow-raising relationships with his mother and the women in his life, here's the dark side of Elvis Presley.

He never wrote anything and barely played the guitar

Nobody sees Elvis Presley as a Dylan-esque songwriting genius, but you'd be shocked to know he literally wrote nothing. Despite being credited on 10 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 a 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 Elvis 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 with the condition that Parton sign off half the royalties. As published in the Belfast Telegraph (via, Parton turned down Elvis and replied, "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." 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 or something. 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 guns into his boots.

To Elvis' credit, he had a concealed-carry permit. To his lack of credit, he evidently saw them as mere toys. As recounted in his autobiography, "Over the Top and Back," singer Tom Jones once visited Elvis' dressing room 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's "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." 

Then, he would give them a ticket that was actually an autograph, which didn't make 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.

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 lady's 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 different reporter, "I got about 25 girls I date regular. She's just one of the girls." 

It's safe to assume these publicity stunts didn't exactly tickle the fancy of Elvis' love interests. But on the flip side, it may have given Juanico the freedom to also date who she wanted. And indeed, she found someone else, breaking up with the King in a train car not long after, letting him know she had promised to marry another. In the end, he was left alone on the train as it pulled away from the station.

He had a big love for big food

Elvis Presley had a huge appetite — for women, sure, but also for food. In 1960, James Gregory wrote in "The Elvis Presley Story" (via the Independent) the details of 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 unhealthy relationship with food, 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 the 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 jelly made out of bananas and black cherry soda (his favorite beverage)... and nothing else. 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 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. Elvis would reportedly laugh when Scatter approached female guests and lifted up their skirts, knock back a beer or some whiskey, or 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. (He'd been a truck driver before he became the rock King.) 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.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He started dating Priscilla when she was just 14

Elvis Presley first took up with the only woman he'd ever marry when she was barely a teenager. Priscilla Beaulieu was raised by a father in the U.S. Air Force, and when she was in her early teens, he moved the whole family to a base in Wiesbaden, Germany. One day in 1959, when Beaulieu was 14 years old, she was hanging out at an American military club when a man named Currie Grant approached her and said he was close friends with 24-year-old Elvis Presley, who was at the time enlisted in the Army and stationed nearby.

She'd soon accept Grant's invitation to meet Presley. The first time he came face to face with the girl that his friend had picked up for him, Presley guessed she was a junior or senior in high school, only for Beaulieu to correct him. "Why, you're just a baby," she recalled him quipping in an essay penned in People. Before long, Beaulieu and Presley were a couple. After Presley's discharge and return to the U.S., he'd fly Beaulieu out on occasion, sneaking off to see her without arousing suspicions of his girlfriend, actor Anita Wood. After Wood found out and broke things off, Presley invited Beaulieu to move in with him. She was 15 at the time.

Elvis was fixated on virginity

Elvis and Priscilla Presley married in 1967, more than seven years after their relationship began in Germany in the late 1950s. The couple didn't physically consummate their relationship until their wedding night. In her 1985 memoir "Elvis and Me," Priscilla Presley recalled tearfully begging her boyfriend to meet her physical needs. He refused every time.

She and Elvis kissed and snuggled, and the couple took explicit, sexually charged Polaroid pictures of each other. Throughout their dating years, Elvis carried on flings and affairs, notably with Ann-Margret while filming "Viva Las Vegas." But Priscilla remained technically chaste — per Presley's wishes and in line with a deeply-held personal philosophy regarding whoever he chose to marry.  "Something in his Southern upbringing had taught him that the 'right,' girl was to be saved for marriage. I was that girl," Priscilla wrote in her People essay.

Nine months to the day after their 1967 wedding night, the Presley parents became the Presley family when their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, was born. After the birth of their child, Elvis lost all sexual interest in his wife, claiming that he couldn't be with a woman in that matter because she'd been sullied by childbirth. "He 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 wrote in her memoir.

He told Priscilla what to wear and how to act

Throughout his relationships, Elvis Presley tried to exert control and influence over women. When he was 19 years old, Elvis dated 15-year-old Dixie Locke, whose clothing choices he dictated. The behavior grew more pronounced when he entered into a relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu, later Priscilla Presley. "He wanted to mold me to his opinions and preferences," Priscilla wrote in her People essay in 1985. She wasn't pleased with how quickly into the marriage she'd become pregnant. According to her memoir, Priscilla discussed getting a prescription for birth control pills with Elvis shortly before the nuptials. "He had been adamantly against it: 'They're not good for you. I really don't want you taking them. They're not perfected yet. There's all kinds of side effects.'"

Priscilla also wrote about how upon visiting Elvis in the U.S. early in their relationship in the 1960s, he took her on a four-hour shopping trip which she called "the Elvis Presley Fashion Course." He insisted that she wore only the colors that he liked to wear, solids only, and never dark green or brown because those reminded him of his military years. "I was Elvis's doll, his own living doll, to fashion as he pleased," Priscilla explained, adding that the musician would also order her to redo her makeup if she applied it too lightly. 

Elvis and his mother were maybe a little too close

Priscilla Presley was the only woman that Elvis Presley ever married, but she said in her memoir that the King truly only had room in his heart for one woman — his mother, Gladys Presley. But Elvis may have seen something of his mom in his future wife. "He was attracted to women who reminded him of his mother, as Priscilla did with dark hair and beautiful eyes," a friend of Presley's told a biographer (via The Sunday Times).

That could stem from Gladys Presley's doting on Elvis when he was a boy. "[She] gave him so much love and attention when he was growing up that he came to put all mothers on a special pedestal," Elvis' friend Sonny West wrote in "Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business" (via Express). Gladys and Elvis long referred to each other by fawning pet names: She called him "Baby," "Ageless," and "Naughty," while he called her "Satnin," the name of a brand of lard. "He talked baby talk to her," Elvis associate Lamar Fike said in "Elvis and the Memphis Mafia." That extreme level of closeness between mother and son helped encourage actor Natalie Wood to break off her romance with Elvis — she witnessed the adult rock star sitting in his mother's lap.

Elvis has left the building (via the bathroom)

Everyone wants to shed this mortal coil in a sweet and dignified way. After telling gathered loved ones how much they've contributed to a valuable life, a profound speech will be made about the nature of life. 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 system, 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.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).