Singers Ready for Their Close-Up in Western Movies! – Elvis Presley

Back in the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley shocked parents across the country with his expressive swivel-hip moves. Outrage was so vocal that by his third appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, he was censored from the waist down! On the other hand, teens and young adults broke free of the structured conservative norms of the times and reacted to the flirty-eyed, sultry, deep-voiced singer by freely dancing, waving their arms, and screaming in a starstruck frenzy. Elvis was soon christened “The King of Rock and Roll.” He was a phenomenon of raw energy and charisma. Sinatra might have had the girls politely swooning, but Elvis incited the kind of hysterics that would become the new norm for fans, from the Beatles and the British Invasion to The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Billy Joel, all the way to today’s stars, such as Taylor Swift, and Beyonce: Audiences go wild.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. He had a twin brother, who was stillborn. Elvis grew up as an only child, and he was very close to his parents, especially his mother Gladys, who gifted him a guitar when he was 11 years old. In 1948, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Already influenced heavily by the Gospel music he heard at church, now Elvis discovered other inspiring sounds that would eventually shape his unique style—country, and the African American R&B bands along Memphis’ historic Beale Street.

In 1954, just a year after graduating from high school, Elvis signed with Sun Records. A year later, in a deal negotiated by manager Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ contract was sold to RCA Records. The small-town boy would soon become an international sensation who would change the course of pop culture. In January 1956 RCA released Elvis’ single, “Heartbreak Hotel.” It went to number one in the U.S. Over the course of his career, Elvis sold over one billion records, earning him gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards. He won three Grammys out of his 14 nominations. Among his many hits were “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “All Shook Up,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Burning Love.”

Very early on, Elvis expressed interest in being a dramatic actor, following in the footsteps of his idols, James Dean and Marlon Brando. In 1956, Elvis made his film debut in the musical Western, Love Me Tender. The film’s original title was The Reno Brothers, but the movie title was changed when advance sales of Elvis’ record, “Love Me Tender” surpassed one million. Elvis starred in 33 films, including Jailhouse Rock, Kid Creole, G.I. Blues, Viva Las Vegas, and Roustabout.

Wanting to be taken seriously as an actor, Elvis asked for roles with fewer songs. He almost got his way with the 1960 Western, Flaming Star, but, coming off the success of G.I. Blues, 20th Century Fox execs were just too nervous to allow a musician, especially of Elvis’ stature, to not sing in a movie. They insisted on including four songs.

Dozens of hit musicals followed including Harum Scarum, the Western musical Frankie and Johnnie, and Double Trouble. In 1968, Elvis finally got his wish with the dramatic Western film, Charro!, notably the only movie starring Elvis in which he doesn’t sing on screen.

By 1973, his marriage to Priscilla was in shambles, his health was on the decline, and he struggled with addiction to prescription drugs, which brought him perilously close to death on several occasions. He lost that battle on August 16, 1977, when his girlfriend Ginger Alden, found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor at Graceland. He was later pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at Baptist Memorial Hospital. He was 42 years old.

Learn more about Elvis

The Elvis Presley Story | Pets of the Stars