The dark reason Elvis would bring his guns on stage

Artists have their traditions, customs and habits. Some, like Broadway Direct, might even call them superstitions, though that seems a harsh way to talk about how you aren't supposed to mention the play Macbeth in a theater, whistle in a theater or have brown M&Ms in the M&M stash in Van Halen's dressing room in a theater. They might range from the quirky (that glockenspiel player in orchestra class who wore the same lucky underwear for concerts) to the guy who just doesn't feel quite secure in front of all those people unless he's packing heat. And that guy would have been Elvis.

By the 1970s, Elvis was fighting to stay relevant and marketable. His weight yo-yoed drastically, and he had an undeniable addiction to various prescription drugs to deal with pain, insomnia, exhaustion, and constipation. He was big enough that his entourage — and it was quite a group, frequently referred to as the Memphis Mafia — would go along with whatever he wanted, whether that was food binges or buying sprees. He probably purchased 100 Cadillacs in his time, some for himself, but many for others, says How Stuff Works; he liked to buy jewelry, which he wore himself — the bigger and flashier, the better — but also to give away to friends and associates.

He brought more than just charisma on stage

And he liked to buy guns. For Christmas 1970 alone he'd bought 32 of them as presents, says Smithsonian, and that was the year he presented a .45 Colt in a display case as a gift to President Richard Nixon. Graceland was the site of more than one gunshot; when Elvis saw something on TV that he didn't approve of (especially, for some reason, Robert Goulet, says The Truth About Guns) he wouldn't change the channel; he'd shoot the set. Elvis seemed to enjoy the variety of collecting — as Gun and Game relates, he had "everything from sub-noses to Thompson full-auto sub-machine guns to full-auto" M-16s.

Like many celebrities, Elvis had his share of threats, and as his mental condition deteriorated in the 1970s he began to be more and more paranoid. One way he dealt with that was with bodyguards, and another was by carrying as many as three handguns on him at all times, including onto the stage. Australia's Elvis Presley Fan Club tells the story of his rhythm guitarist's shock when a .22 derringer popped out of Elvis's boot during a concert appearance. Fortunately, it didn't go off and tear a hunka hunka burning flesh out of an audience member.